An increasing number of companies apply 3D printing technology already in the early phase of the innovation process in order to identify the customer´s needs at its beginning.
The innovation process Design Thinking designed by IDEO consists of five steps: empathy, definition, ideal solution, prototype and feedback. Prototyping by means of 3D printing can be most appropriately used in the production of prototypes of physical products. Such a prototype can be easily tested directly at the customer in order to obtain feedback.
Application of 3D printing and prototyping in production can eliminate a lot of mistakes which if dragged into current production would result in further considerable costs. The communication and decision making aspect is also significant. It is easier to present a physical prototype to non-technical persons to assess its dimensions, ergonomics or ease of handling. However when the future user holds the prototype in his hands, he is much more able to imagine how to work with it and if the product suits him. In this way it is possible to identify conceivable imperfections and to use this feedback to improve the product.
How to begin?
1. Start already now
Select suitable candidates from your team who like to learn about new things and are open to new technologies. Send these employees to attend 3D printing training courses where they will be acquainted with available technologies and materials, will learn how to operate the table printer and how to create models appropriate for 3D printing.
2. Get a 3D printer for your team
The market offers a great variety of table printers you can choose from. The prevailing type of printers is with the FDM (fused deposition modelling) technology, also called FFF (fused filament fabrication) technology, where a thermoplastic material flows from a heated nozzle in the form of a wire (filament).
3. Develop and innovate faster
Do not expect that in a week after the purchase of the printer the team will be able to spew one prototype after another. It needs some time for them to get acquainted with the printer, to learn how to control it. The next step is modelling for 3D printing and optimization of models to make them appropriate for printing.
4. Think far ahead
3D printing has a potential to outreach only the innovation of new products in the sense of prototyping. Firms must in future preconceive potential new commercial models since 3D printing will have effect on the entire value chain. Some foreign companies already investigate the 3D printing technology for mass customizing, when each customer will obtain a tailor-made product produced on request.
3D printers have a long way in front of them. If printing can be accelerated and the number of materials which can be used for printing extended and modelling software simplified, then I believe that a 3D printer on our office table will be a current working tool.
Source: MM Industrial Spectrum, Serial Innovations, Part 7, Tomáš Michálek, MakersLab Prague