The success or failure of an additive manufacturing project boils down to a single point that can drive all aspects of a project—keep it front and center with a few basic tips.
As the additive manufacturing/rapid prototyping industry grows, so, too, do the options available to engineers. Every year, it seems, new technologies mature and improved materials become viable. If you want it, you can almost certainly get it.
Ultimately, however, what really matters is: Does the part do what it’s supposed to do? The best way to get to this seemingly simple but absolutely critical end result is to keep these five tips in mind when approaching the RFQ process.
Pick a Communicator
There are many rapid prototyping service bureaus that simply accept a CAD file, manufacture a part according to a brief functional spec and drop it in the mail. That’s fine … sometimes. Unfortunately, this type of process – or lack thereof – lends itself to missed connections, poor communication and sub-par final results. A single bad keystroke can create a worthless end product.
Rather, it is highly recommended that users seek out additive manufacturers who emphasize collaboration and transparency. By making their own engineers available to those of the contracting firm, rapid prototyping service bureaus like ProtoCAM ensure that essential questions are answered before they become an issue. They’re the ones “in the weeds” of the additive manufacturing industry; there’s a good chance they’ll be able to offer the sage advice that helps the project flow smoothly.
While there are many critical factors in the creation of a prototype or product, material (or a fundamental material property) is typically non-negotiable. Whether you’re thinking on a broad level (“It needs to be flexible”) or a specific one (“It needs to be 17-4 stainless steel”), a piece’s material largely drives the rest of the process.
As a leading additive manufacturing service bureau, ProtoCAM offers a wide variety of materials suited to various mechanical and aesthetic objectives. Better yet, our engineers are happy to offer counsel on what’s best for your project.
Pay Attention to Process
The world of additive manufacturing/rapid prototyping is constantly changing. That means it’s important to do your homework before deciding on a specific process for your project. Assumptions, even those based on relatively new information, might be outdated—a situation that can cost you time and money.
Making things more complex, there are often multiple additive manufacturing processes that can accomplish similar tasks; both PolyJet 3D printing and stereolithography, for instance, can produce exceptional aesthetic properties.
Unless your chosen material requires a specific technique to be used, don’t be afraid to ask what options are available. You might be pleasantly surprised!
What’s Your Timeframe?
Additive manufacturing projects are completed in the real world—and in the real world, time is always a factor. Whether your deadline is in two days or two months, you need a service bureau that can get you what you need when you need it.
Of course, urgency of delivery can influence process selection, as well as post-processing options. Some basic processes can be turned around in as little as one day; those involving multiple steps (like urethane casting or painted parts) take longer.
Just like when you’re choosing an additive manufacturing technique, be sure to talk through your timeframe with experts at your service bureau. Chances are, they’ll be able to point you toward a process or set of options that meets your needs.
Paying the Price
Every business wants to save money wherever it can and additive manufacturing projects are no exception. Fortunately, there are a myriad of options available depending on the final use of the part.
Looking for functional testing? The piece probably doesn’t need to be pretty, too. Need an aesthetic model for investors or a trade show? Then strength likely isn’t a huge deal. If you keep your goal in mind (and trust your chosen experts), you’ll be able to avoid paying for unnecessary features and procedures.
At the end of the day, additive manufacturing must be a collaborative process. From material choice and technique to minimizing time and cost, it’s essential that the customer and the service bureau be on the same page.
That’s a big reason why we at ProtoCAM are so dedicated to being available to those who use our services. It’s that level of engineer-to-engineer contact that reduces cycle times, creates cost-saving efficiencies and results in an end product that performs exactly as needed.