The great thing about 3D Printing is…

The great thing about 3D Printing is you can design just about anything. The bad thing about 3D Printing is you can design just about anything. I was involved in a project a few years ago (in another company) to bring a new product to the market, the third generation of our existing product. We came ever so close, so we thought. I can’t get into exact project details due to privacy, but the broad strokes are the important lesson learned in this case.

Here is the short version, I blame the engineer 😉

The longer version is that the entire team was responsible for this failed project. The main problem was we were all new to 3D Printing. We were all terribly excited by the design doors that 3D Printing opened up for us, and how quickly we could turn around and “validate” our designs. So excited that we didn’t stop to think, are we designing for manufacturing correctly? Yes, we could make our incredibly intricate design work with 3D Printing, but we couldn’t then make the adjustments needed for injection molding, the mass manufacturing process needed to satisfy the markets price point demands.

We had retailers lined up, the product was going to be a world beater, but no one was going to write that P.O. based on the 3D Printed products we presented. The concept was sold, but the buyers needed real mass manufactured pieces to verify before committing. Our designer had a very clever mind, a CAD wizard, but he didn’t come from an injection molding background.

Looking back, could we have made this project work by using a designer from an injection molding background? Maybe, but I tend to think that their experience would have told us that our design “wants” were not mass manufacturable, or they would have tried to take us down an alternative design path that likely would have fizzled out. As a Monday morning quarterback, I would have gladly taken either of these alternative options compared to the time we wasted chasing a rabbit hole design.

Moving forward we learned how to better harness the power of our 3D Printing system for our needs by checking in more often with our high volume production partners to get their experienced feedback before getting too deep into a project. Our engineer hated this, but no one really likes accountability 😊

The big lesson I learned: The great thing about 3D Printing is, you can design just about anything. The bad thing about 3D Printing is, you can design just about anything. Excitement and creativity are awesome and needed. Doing a reality check at times is also needed.

Gary Moran

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