It is wise to think about the best tools and processes to finish your design when you want to develop a product prototype. The three primary ways to make prototypes are subtractive manufacturing (CNC machine parts), injection molding (designed to pre-produce prototypes), or additive manufacturing (3D printing).

It is crucial to understanding the differences between these three types of product development methods to pick the right technology for your project and determine if 3D printing is the best option.

Subtractive Manufacturing, Injection Molding, and 3D Printing

Subtractive manufacturing is a product development process used to create 3D objects by continuously cutting material from a solid block of material such as metal. This can be carried out manually or with a CNC machine.

Injection molding, on the other hand, is a manufacturing process for producing products in large volumes. It can be used to do initial product prototypes, but is mostly used in mass production processes where one production part can be created thousands if not millions of times in succession.

Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, refers to the process of producing 3-dimensional solid objects from a computer file. Printing happens in an additive process where a solid object is developed through the successive layering of material. There are a wide range of materials to choose from including plastic and metal. The procedure starts with the creation of a 3D digital file such as Computer Aided Design. The 3D digital file is then sent to a 3D printer for printing using a simple print command.

We can now look at the advantages of 3D printing after understanding how it compares to traditional manufacturing techniques.

Benefits of 3D Printing Technology

Many companies have embraced 3D printing. Others have plans to introduce the technology and replace traditional subtractive manufacturing. As a matter of fact, recent research shows that over 70 percent manufacturers have now adopted 3D printing. Additionally, over 50 percent expect 3D printing technology to be used for high volume product development, and about 22 percent others estimate that its effects on supply chains will become even more disruptive.

A 2015 report by Wohlers Associates, a leading 3D printing analyst firm, estimated an annual 31 percent growth in the 3D printing industry between 2014 and 2020. In 2014, the 3D print industry produced approximately $4 billion global revenue. In 2016, over 275,000 3D printers were sold worldwide according to Wohler’s yearly report. Projected growth shows that 3D printing will ultimately generate more than $21 billion in revenue across the globe.

Using 3D printing technology can provide numerous benefits both for individuals and businesses alike. Here are ten significant benefits that 3D printing technology provides:

1. Faster Production

3D printing is quicker than conventional manufacturing including injection molds and subtractive production. Think the speed of a sports car versus the speed of a horse cart. Both will reach their destination, but the time difference is significantly huge. From a prototype to a final product, 3D printing tests ideas and designs quickly.

Faster design and prototype production means more time to iterate the prototype and find product market fit before competitors. 3D printing production takes just hours. Conversely, testing ideas and designs with conventional manufacturing methods can take up days, if not several weeks.

2. Easily Accessible

3D printing has been around for decades but it really did not take off until 2010. The explosion of 3D printing interests has brought easier to use software and hardware to consumers as more competition has entered the space. It’s never been easier to learn the technology and you can incorporate it in a matter of days into your production cycle.

3. Better Quality

Traditional manufacturing methods can easily result in poor designs, and therefore poor quality prototypes. Imagine a scenario where someone wants to bake a cake by combining all the ingredients together, mixing them up, and putting them in the oven to cook. If the elements did not mix well, the cake will have issues such as air bubbles or a failure to cook thoroughly. That is how subtractive or injection molds can sometimes be. You are not assured of quality 100 percent of the time. 3D printing allows the step-by-step assembly of the object, which guarantees enhanced designs and eventually better quality objects.

4. Tangible Design and Product Testing

There’s no way seeing a product on the screen or virtually can compare to the actual feel of a prototype. 3D printing offers that benefit. It is possible to experience the touch and feel of the product prototype to physically test it and find flaws in the design. If a problem is found, you can modify the CAD file and print out a new version by the next day.

5. Cost-effectiveness

Labor costs play a huge role in determining the amount of money to be spent in developing a prototype. Traditional prototyping methodologies including production runs and injection mold are costly as they require a lot of human labor. Labor costs are also very high with conventional subtractive manufacturing. You need experienced machine operators and technicians to handle the production. Also, you have to pay these laborers and use expensive machinery. With 3D printing, however, labor can be as little as one person issuing a print command.

6. Creative Designs and Customization Freedom

Traditional manufacturing techniques are good at creating millions of copies of the same thing. It results in same dull and boring designs without the capacity to be improved much. Making each design unique with these techniques is extraordinarily hard.

3D printing allows for endless personalization, which makes it much simpler to accommodate personal touches that are requested from customers. Your imagination is the only limitation. You can make a crown that is precisely engineered to fit in someone’s mouth for example. This cuts down on the number of visits that a patient needs to make sure they have a properly fitting crown.

7. Unlimited Shapes and Geometry

Old methods of manufacturing rely on molds and cutting technologies to generate the desired shapes. Designing geometrically complex shapes can be hard and expensive with this technology. 3D printing takes on this challenge with ease and there’s not much the technology can’t do with the proper support material.

8. Can Implement Assorted Raw Materials

Product designers have to keenly calculate their steps when it comes to materials to use with either subtractive or injection mold manufacturing. Mass manufacturing doesn’t support the blending of raw materials as it can be expensive. Furthermore, combining chemical and physical elements is complicated. 3D printing easily accommodates a diverse range of raw material including glass, metal, paper, ceramics, biomaterial, silver, etc.

9. Less Waste Production

CNC cutting and injection molding result in a lot of wasted resources. Both involve the removal of materials from solid blocks. Unlike these two, 3D printing only uses material that is needed to create a prototype part – no more, no less. Additionally, reusing the materials from a 3D print is relatively straight forward. As a result, additive manufacturing creates very little waste, and saves a company a lot of money.

10. Risk Reduction

When it comes to product manufacturing, a good designer knows that proper design verification is crucial before investing in an expensive molding tool. 3D printing technology enables product designers to verify product prototypes before starting out on substantial manufacturing investments that can sometimes be disastrous.

3D printing enables you to turn a concept into reality faster than you can imagine. Products are built quickly and cheaply. The technology will no doubt continue to transform every industry, changing the way we work and live in future.