Here at Treetown Tech, we have embraced 3D printing as a key tool for our rapid prototyping.

As we discussed in our previous posts in October and November, we use rapid prototyping for quick iteration in the product development process – leading to reduced costs and improved performance.  We’re able to develop a new concept in physical form within a few days, and we can look at several more versions over the course of a week or two.

We use two primary methods of 3D printing: fused deposition modeling (FDM) and stereolithography (SLA).

We have several FDM 3D printers for rapid prototyping. Our current maximum output is a cube of 500 mm on each side. Here, one of our printers is working on a set of battery cable covers.

FDM is fast, cheap, and can produce large print volumes relatively quickly. SLA produces a more accurate and higher quality finish over FDM; it also allows for more detail and is more representative of what a finished production part may look like.

Our product development process starts with an understanding of the purpose and function of an idea.  After that concept development, our team uses 3D CAD to sketch-out the first iteration of the concept. As soon as the 3D model is complete, we create a rough 3D print using our FDM printer to examine the overall fit and form of the product. From there, iteration begins. With 3D printing, our team can quickly make changes in the 3D model and manufacture a new prototype within hours.

Once we focus in on a preferred design, our SLA printers create more intricate and detailed prototypes that closely match a final machined product.  These 3D prototypes can be shown to potential investors and various stakeholders.

Following 3D printing, we also have a CNC mill which allows us to machine metal parts in-house. A single part may go through dozens of fast, cheap plastic iterations before we machine a metal prototype or final part.

Following 3D printing, we have in-house machining capabilities to make more durable final prototypes. Here, we are using our CNC mill to make a new iteration of a ramp tab out of acetal that was previously prototyped in PLA on a 3D printer.

We see savings from this process of 50-80% in overall development time and cost compared to a traditional development process.

In some cases, 3D printing may also be used to manufacture a final product – if it is low-quantity, non-structural, and highly integrated.

Although we know the time and cost savings are significant, the most important benefit from rapid prototyping and 3D printing is that we have more flexibility to experiment with various concepts and find the best solution for the problem.

We love to talk about 3D printing, whether you’re a customer or not.  If you want to talk more about this, give us a call. Check out our video below for more on this topic.