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Breaking the mold: accelerate product development with 3D print

•  Trend article

3D printing (3DP) is at the heart of digital manufacturing—but it takes powerful technology tools to drive today’s product-development workflows.

Experienced design engineers may not-so-fondly recall the “old days” of manufacturing, when they would draw product ideas in 2D, choose the design iteration that seemed most viable, and work with the factory to create the molds and toolsets needed to produce the physical prototype. Then came weeks or months of waiting for production to begin. In the meantime, the company fervently hoped that a competitor didn’t beat them to market—and that they didn’t end up manufacturing millions of units with unforeseen design flaws. 

 

3D printing is changing all that. Combined with powerful computing that takes the guesswork out of design iteration, 3DP is bringing previously unimagined design flexibility and workflow efficiency into the mainstream of manufacturing, from prototyping to production. 

 

“Digital manufacturing accelerates the whole workflow,” explains HP Fellow and Z by HP Chief Technologist Bruce Blaho. “The goal is to get more quickly from an idea in someone’s head to a product that’s in someone’s hands.” 

 

Let’s take a quick tour of 3D printing workflows, use cases, and benefits for product developers and their companies.

“The goal is to get more quickly from an idea in someone’s head to a product that’s in someone’s hands.” 

Bruce Blaho

HP Fellow and Z by HP Chief Technologist

Workflows:
Rapid prototyping

Create, test, iterate in hours

Historically, this wouldn’t have been possible; the design would have had to be produced in volume using a process like injection molding, where building the mold costs time and money. And even then, the designer doesn’t know what they’re going to get—there can be unforeseen design conflicts between the case and the phone, and then the designer has to go back to the drawing board with a trash can full of failed prototypes.

 

“It’s very helpful to be able to print one-offs as designers iterate the design—to see if what you saw onscreen looks like what you expected in the real world,” Blaho explains. “Rapid prototyping gives you the confidence that when you do invest millions in building those molds, they’re going to be right.”

Not for Etsy® anymore:
A brief history of 3D printing

Originally a tool for hobbyists, consumers, and entrepreneurial makers, 3D printing has been around for about 20 years. But about five years ago HP entered the market, helping 3DP secure its foothold in commercial manufacturing. 

Design simulation

Giving product designers “superpowers”

In this evolution of creating things—from 2D CAD to 3D CAD and parametric design—all these tools essentially just captured what the designer had in mind. 

 

But in the next step in the evolution of design—generative design, which combines 3D printing and simulation— there is a meeting of the minds. Designers find that their workstations are more like partners, with the workstation doing its own work on the design, giving designers the superpower to accelerate the engineering workflow. 

“3D printing opens up whole new spaces of design that just weren’t practical before because it couldn’t be built.” 

Bruce Blaho

HP Fellow and Z by HP Chief Technologist

Using AI-driven applications that have been deep learning-trained to perform complex math, a workstation can come up with hundreds or thousands of design iterations on its own, then rapidly cycle those multiple designs through simplified simulations. The application essentially vets the designs for the designer ahead of time, selecting only the top contenders with the highest degree of viability.

 

These simulations take into consideration design goals, costs, parameters, materials, thermal factors, and fluid and wind flow—all the factors that go into the geometry of the design. Because of that, “These full-blown high-resolution simulations can run for hours,” says Blaho. “You’re going to need a LOT of computational power—you need a powerful workstation that’s going to let you accomplish more in less time.”

Use cases:

Small-batch manufacturing

Making It Custom—for the Masses 

 

Personalisation and niche markets are a rapidly growing trend, but they are expensive or impossible with traditional mass-manufacturing models. However, 3D printing makes made-toorder easy, from limited runs of identical products for a small customer base to a customised design for just one customer. 

 

For example, 3D physiological data can be collected from individual consumers in-store, then used to print at a digital factory. SmileDirectClub is disrupting the orthodontics industry with customised plastic aligners that take the place of traditional metal braces. Other HP customer applications have included custom pneumatic grippers in automotive assembly lines or bike and work helmets built to specific customer safety standards.

Distributed manufacturing

Divide-and-conquer crisis response

The ability to manufacture reasonably sized batches of parts rapidly is only one part of the equation—you need a design available for the parts you need to print. From touch-free door openers to nasal swabs for test kits to fixtures for masks and other medical devices like ventilators, Blaho says the world suddenly realised that “materials and parts we didn’t know we needed a few weeks ago—now we do, desperately.” 

 

While it’s beyond the scope of an individual 3D printer to produce millions of items in a hurry, pushing out digital designs from a workstation to sites around the world let healthcare organisations in outbreak-stricken areas print and proliferate by the power of numbers. 

 

“If we had to build an injection mold for this, it would have taken six weeks, plus the dollar cost, and that’s just for one part,” says Blaho. “We can send them a design in minutes, and they can be up and going in days, cranking out the parts where they’re needed.” 

 

This realisation, along with the supply-chain disruptions caused by the pandemic, has long-term implications for manufacturing. “You don’t need giant plants in industrial centers cranking out millions of products a year—you can have the designs distributed all over the planet. And print them as they’re needed, so there’s less waste and more efficiency. That’s the future of where we see it going— manufacturing that’s distributed across all the cities of the globe.”

“You don’t need giant plants in industrial centers cranking out millions of products a year—you can have the designs distributed all over the planet. And print them as they’re needed, so there’s less waste and more efficiency. That’s the future of where we see it going— manufacturing that’s distributed across all the cities of the globe.”

Bruce Blaho, HP Fellow and Z by HP Chief
Technologist

Benefits:

Faster time-to-market

Avoiding the hurry-up-and-wait scenario 

Even with faster design and prototyping, eventually you’ll find yourself waiting for your mass-manufacturing molds. A key benefit to digital manufacturing is that, for some types of products, you can go ahead and hit the market with 3D printing while the molds are being built. 

 

“I can finish the design, and while I’m tooling the factory for volume production, I can go to market months sooner with 3D print,” says Blaho. “I can start shipping now, because I know the design is right.” 

 

While the final cost of goods may be higher on the initial wave of products because of the 3DP-based parts they contain, that cost can be significantly outweighed by the benefit of getting to market ahead of the competition.

Greater creativity

Giving creators more freedom to create

“Traditional manufacturing has always limited design complexity,” Blaho says. “You had to keep it simple—simplicity is good because it’s easier to manufacture.” 

 

That meant that sometimes even though a wavy surface might be more attractive to consumers or more functional to the purpose of the part, the designer had to go with a more simplistic flat design. But because 3D is digital, designers can create anything they like on the workstation; they can have any level of complexity that they want, with the cost dictated only by how much material is used and how long it takes to print. “These were designs that you couldn’t have done before you had 3D print,” 

 

Blaho says. “But now that you do, it opens the door to much more interesting and complex designs—and therefore you need the computational power to be able to come up with those.”

Remote work

Keeping business going in the new way of working

When the COVID pandemic hit, stay-at-home orders separated many engineers and designers from the tools that are so essential to their work. IT teams faced a big problem: They were responsible for getting employees back to business from home, but the remote-access tools they traditionally used to connect mainstream workers to their office PCs were inadequate for remote compute-intensive users.

 

"Doing remote work on a workstation is sometimes very difficult. You’re dealing with 3D, video editing, high performance, and lots and lots of data. Traditional ways of remotely accessing your machine may not work so well,” Blaho explains. “The Z solution for remote users allows you to be at home, on a fairly lightweight laptop, and connect over the network to your workstation—back at your desk or a data center or another state or country—and still get very high-speed remote access."

"The Z solution for remote users allows you to be at home, on a fairly lightweight laptop, and connect over the network to your workstation—back at your desk or a data center or another state or country—and still get very high-speed remote access."

Bruce Blaho

HP Fellow and Z by HP Chief Technologist

Model sizes are doubling about every year, meaning data scientists are often dealing with hundreds of gigabytes or even terabytes of data. "There’s no way you’ll ever be able to pull that data into your home to work on it—you need remote software to bring you to the data,” Blaho says. ”Access it from home, but work on it where you’ve got the power.”

 

When graphics-intensive projects are business critical but can no longer be done on-site, the Z solution for remote workstation users allows users to tackle graphics-intensive projects from anywhere. “A lot of companies have told us that they wouldn’t have made it without our technologies—it allowed them to deliver despite COVID,” says Blaho.

Why 3DP hasn’t taken 
over the world—yet 

With all the efficiencies that 3D printing enables, it’s no wonder it’s becoming pervasive across any industry that involves product design or design improvement. Not just in consumer goods, but also in automotive and aerospace, where every ounce of weight savings or safety improvement on components like metal framing, rocket nozzles, and train-door supports matters to companies like GE, SpaceX, and CAF.

 

But for 3D printing to live up to its potential, it has to be able to make the move into the multi-trillion-dollar industry of volume manufacturing—and before that can happen, it’s true that per-part costs must decrease. Yet traditional approaches, while currently more cost-efficient on economies of scale, have drawbacks of their own. 

“Going to all-digital manufacturing is the biggest change since the Industrial Revolution.” 

Bruce Blaho

HP Fellow and Z by HP Chief Technologist

“Traditional manufacturing methods like injection molding are great if you need to make a million parts, but not-so-great if you need to make design changes—traditional manufacturing is very rigid,” explains Blaho. “But once you have the right ‘recipe’ in place, and the molds are built, traditional manufacturing can really crank out the products more cheaply.” 

 

Perhaps the sweet spot comes from a symbiosis between the two. Using 3DP for one-off prototyping, designers can get the design to its optimal stage, then send it through the traditional manufacturing process with the confidence that the recipe is right.

Why HP for your 3D 
workflows

Time is of the essence in digital product development, and the technology you choose to support your processes shouldn’t slow you down. Z by HP is a long-standing leader in desktop and laptop workstations, bringing to market innovative solutions designed to transform 3D workflows. And we don't stop at hardware. We optimise and certify our devices to ensure peak performance with leading software applications. 

 

Combining the Z by HP portfolio with HP 3D printers gives you an end-to-end 3D workflow solution. You can grow your business on a scalable platform that moves smoothly from prototyping to final part production—all using the same technology. You’ll get a seamless experience, enabling you to spend your time creating—not trying to integrate disparate tools and systems from multiple vendors. 

 

“Going to all-digital manufacturing is the biggest change since the Industrial Revolution,” concludes Blaho. “That aspiration—and all the resources that HP can bring to it— can make it a reality.”

How is 3DP different from traditional manufacturing?

The overall concept of 3D printing is fairly simple—the creation of a three—dimensional solid object printed in successive thin layers of material, as directed by a digital blueprint created using computer-aided design (CAD) software. Although there are different processes for 3DP, they are all additive design—you are building up the solution. This differs from traditional manufacturing, which is subtractive design—you are removing material to create parts.

Z by HP for 3D Printing

Demanding additive manufacturing workflows require high-performance technology optimised for software applications like Creo Additive Manufacturing Extension, NX and CATIA. With high frequency processing power, our laptop and desktop workstations are designed and tested to accelerate 3D printing workflows.

 

Recommended products for 3D printing: Z2 Mini Desktop and ZBook Studio.

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    4AA7-7935ENW, June 2022