Product Development

Phoenix Business Journal: ​Um, the coffee machine needs more water and 5 rules to improve your user interface design game

Posted on January 12, 2017, by: Eric Miller

Usually getting coffee is just getting coffee, but a recent trip turned into some deep thoughts on user interface design.  "​Um, the coffee machine needs more water and 5 rules to improve your user interface design game" explains my encounter with the office caffeine dispenser as well as five key rules that everyone should follow when developing a user interface for a product.

ANSYS Startup Roadshow Kickoff – CEI Phoenix

Posted on November 1, 2016, by: Trevor Rubinoff

Click Here to Register

Click Here to Register

Can't make it? Keep an eye out as we will be hosting events in other locations as the roadshow continues on!

In the meantime, click here for more information on the ANSYS Startup Program.

Nerdtoberfest: Perfect Pitch Startup Competition and the Fight for The Unicorn Cup Heat Up

Posted on October 19, 2016, by: Eric Miller

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William and Mahatma guard The Unicorn Cup before the competition.

The teams are set, the judges have confirmed.  Details on the fake company has been shared. It is time to see how the professionals pitch a tech startup. The area's best startup incubators and accelerators are facing off in this head to head competition to take home the awesome Unicorn Cup and bragging rights. The teams are:

Thomas Schumann and Patti DuBois from CEI Nate Mortenson from Tallwave Wiley Larson from ASU Lauren McDannel and John Johnson from Seed Spot

Our distinguished panel of judges consists of

Rebel Brown of Cognoscenti Carine Dieudé of Altima Business Solutions Jim Goulka of ATI Christie Kerner of ASU David McCaleb of ATI

Perfect Pitch is a contest where teams present the same fictitious technology startup company.  A group of expert judges will determine who gave the best pitch. The event is part of PADT's Nerdtoberfest celebration of engineering and manufacturing in Arizona, and takes place from 4:30-6:00 on Thursday, October 27th at our Tempe offices. Everyone is invited! We will have an overflow area set up if we get more than can fit in our seminar room where you can watch live.  We will also be streaming the event live to the world (watch this blog and social media for the link). barqk-logo-200-1If seeing the best of the best pitch is not enough, here is some info about our fictitious Company: barqk! At barqk!,  we deploy the latest cloud based machine learning and big data algorithms to convert your dog’s barking into words on your mobile device so that you can understand your pet’s needs, if they are sick, and be made aware of danger. Dog owners face significant problems communicating with their pets. Although you can train a dog to obey commands, the dog cannot tell it’s owners what it needs or wants. This leads to significant stress for the owner and may lead to death when the animal cannot communicate an obvious and present danger. Barqk! has created a cloud connected wearable device for dogs that records their barking and uses machine learning and big data algorithms to convert dog-speak into human-speak. The translated words are sent via text or through our app to the owner’s phone. Initially the owners provide feedback to the network, and the responses of all owners to every dog’s bark are collected as big data then fed through our proprietary algorithms that use Bessel functions and advanced machine learning approximations to develop a consensus on what a given bark means. Over time a translation for each dog will be developed and we expect 87% accuracy.  

Digital Engineering: Fast-Forwarding Next-Generation Product Development

Posted on October 4, 2016, by: Eric Miller

digital_engineering_logoNothing beats seeing a product we were part of hit the shelves, except seeing that product become a success.  The Globalstar Spot3 project was even better because we were able to apply the full range of PADT's capabilities to contribute to this success: Product Development, Simulation, and 3D Printing. In "Fast-Forwarding Next-Generation Product Development" PADT's Mike Landis outlines how we applied leading edge technology and a proven process to quickly develop Globalstar's next-generation design, not just for performance but also for manufactuing.  The article is a great overview of the service PADT has to offer and how we partner with customers to make their innovation work. If you have a new generation of an existing product line, or a brand new product under development and want a better product to market faster, PADT is here to help with our design, simulation, 3D Printing, test, and manufacturing expertise.  Just give us a call at 1-800-293-PADT or email info@paditnc.com.  

Phoenix Business Journal: ​Getting your product made: 6 suggestions for outsourcing the manufacturing of your product

Posted on September 6, 2016, by: Eric Miller

Just-Published-PBJ-1Getting a new product manufactured is one of those critical steps that new companies often assume is just a matter of finding a vendor and outsourcing it. In "Getting your product made: 6 suggestions for outsourcing the manufacturing of your product" I go over some suggestions on how to make this critical step a success.

PADT Events – September 2016

Posted on September 2, 2016, by: Eric Miller

PADT-Events-LogoSeptember is here and it is a jam packed month of events, many of them related to BioMedical engineering.  We are continuing with ANSYS webinars and talking about 3D Printing as well. See what we have below:

uma_new-sm2September 13: Salt Lake City, UT Manufacturing Promotes Innovation Summit

The UMA Summit is a day long event filled with networking, guest speakers and informative information. In between speakers network with our vendor booths and see the latest products and services available for the Manufacturing Industry. PADT will be there with lots of example of 3D Printing and ready to engage on how manufacturing really does drive innovation. Check out the event page for times and an agenda.
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September 15: Scottsdale, AZ ANSYS Arizona Innovation Conference

ANSYS and PADT are pleased to announce that we be holding a user meeting in Scottsdale for the entire ANSYS use community.  Join us for an informative conference on how to incorporate various productivity enhancement tools and techniques into your workflow for your engineering department. ANSYS Applications Engineers and local customers like Honeywell, Galtronics, On Semi, Ping, and Nammo Talley, will discuss design challenges and how simulation-driven product development can help engineers rapidly innovate new products.  See the agenda and register here.

September 19: Phoenix, AZ Seminar: Medical Device Product Development for Startups - The Bitter Pill

We will be kicking off our Arizona Bioscience Week with this a free seminar at CEI in Phoenix with a sometimes brutally honest discussion on the reality of medical device product development. No one wants to discourage a good idea, and entrepreneurs make it a long way before someone sits them down and explains how long and expensive the engineering of a medical device product is. In this one hour seminar PADT will share the hard and cold realities of the process, not to discourage people, but to give them the facts they need. Get the details and register here.
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September 21-22: Minneapolis, MN Medical Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis

PADT Medical will have a booth with our partner Innosurg at this premier event for medical device development.  For 22 years, Medical Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis has been the medtech innovation, communication, and solution epicenter of the Midwest. Now over 600 suppliers strong, and with more than 5,000 industry professionals in attendance, the event provides the solutions, education, and partnerships you simply won’t find anywhere else.  Learn more here. And if you are attending, please stop by and say hello, we are in booth 1643.

azbio-logo-1September 21: Phoenix, AZ AZBio Awards

Join PADT and others for this annual event that recognizes those that contribute to the growing AZ BioTech community.  The awards will be made by PADT's 3D Printing team again this year.  Stop by our table to say hello. Register here.
AZ-Bioscience-Week

September 21 & 22: Phoenix, AZ White Hat Investor Conference

The West was won by innovators, investors, and prospectors who understood the value of discovery and accepted the challenge of investing in new frontiers.  PADT will be joining others in the investment community to meet with and hear from companies (32 are signed up to present right now) in the Bioscience space and to also share ideas and network.  Registration for this special event can be found here.

exerience_it_nmSeptember 30: Albuquerque, NM New Mexico Tech Council: Experience IT NM Conference

Geek out on all things technology. The New Mexico Tech community will gather the best and the brightest entrepreneurs, technicians, hackers, and tech fans for presentations, talks, meet-ups, and parties; all to highlight the vibrant tech community in our city. The Conference takes place on the final day of a week of events, and will focus on HR, CRM, Manufacturing, and Creative concerns of the tech community with panels and presentations.  PADT's Eric Miller will be presenting in two "MakeIT" sessions. Learn more here.
PADT-Webinar-LogoThis month's webinars look at Signal Integrity and 3D Printing for Production
Wednesday, September 7, 2016 – 1:00 PM AZ/PDT, 12:00 PM MDT Investigating Signal Integrity: How to find problems before they find you Register
Thursday, September 29, 2016 – 4:00 PM AZ/PDT, 3:00 PM MDT SAE Webinar: Additive Manufacturing: From Prototyping to Production Parts Register

Phoenix Business Journal: How to assemble the right product development team

Posted on July 26, 2016, by: Eric Miller

pbj-phoenix-business-journal-logoHaving the right product development team is critical to the successful development of a new product.  In "How to assemble the right product development team" I take a look at what PADT has learned through the years about what makes a great team.

Fund a Great Idea: ReadyXO Crayon Box on KickStarter

Posted on June 2, 2016, by: Eric Miller

readyXO-box1 As a parent I know that crayon management has always been a problem in our family, especially when we travel. We could have used the ReadyXO - a simple container that cleverly uses the lid to provide stability so it doesn't tip over.  Now is your chance to control your crayons and help fund a great entrepreneur, and PADT customer, through KickStarter. This is a great idea, a simple solution, by an individual entrepreneur who applied good problem solving and engineering to develop a solution to something that most of us have dealt with when we were kids or as parents. Check out the details at:

              www.kickstarter.com/projects/996897358/readyxo-crayon-box 

Scroll down and read "The Story." If you didn't want to get one out of simple necessity, when you hear about the inventor's journey you will want to back this enterprise immediately. readyXO-box4  readyXO-box3 One of the best parts of working at PADT is helping our customers make their ideas work. From a new valve actuator on the International Space Station to clever gadgets.  Sometimes we see some great ideas from individual inventors that solve a day-to-day problem with a simple and elegant solution and get to help out just a little on their journey.  This is a fantastic example of that. Help us help them by pre-ordering your ReadyXO Crayon Box on KickStarter and spread the word through social media.

Do you have an Internet of Things Strategy? PADT Can Help

Posted on May 25, 2016, by: Eric Miller

thing-1-250w"It is not just a trend, it is a Tsunami. One day you will wake up and see a giant wave headed your way, and that wave will be the Internet of Things!"

This was the opening line from a presentation given by the VP of sales for a major engineering software company. It got my attention because it wasn't hype or hyperbole.  He was just pointing out the obvious. Over the past two years the signs have been there. Smart devices will connected to the internet, and older devices will be made smart and then connected. Those that don't, will no longer be competitive.

It is not all about smart thermostats. Far from it.  I went to IoT world in San Jose last week and saw a lot of people scrambling to find their solution. And a few that found them.  The best example was an older letter stamping machine, you can guess at the manufacturer, that plugged a modular device from Electric Imp in to their controller and boom - they were connected.  Some back end programming and they now had a competitive IoT device.

iot-networ-graphic-1 It is time to define and execute on your IoT strategy

When we visit customers, we will often ask them what their IoT Strategy is.  The answers vary from "we don't really think our products have an IoT play" to existing products on the market.  The focus in the media is on consumer IoT products, but the bigger push right now is for industrial Internet, where machines used in manufacturing, energy generation, raw material extraction, and processing are smart and connected. Customers from consumers to other companies will be requiring the benefits of IoT devices as they look to replace older hardware.  That is why every company that makes physical products needs to develop an IoT strategy.

PADT Can Help

We have been helping our customers define and implement their approach to IoT well, since before it was called the Internet of Things.  From assisting semiconductor companies that make MEMS sensors to making smart medical devices we are plugged in to what is needed to make IoT work. iot-landing-page-padt-1A good place to start is our IoT landing page at:

www.padtinc.com/iot

There you can find some basic information about how PADT is a more comprehensive and technically capable solution then most design houses that claim to have IoT solutions.  We are uniquely qualified to make sure the "Thing" in your IoT strategy is designed and manufactured right. pbj-phoenix-business-journal-logoWe also published a series of articles in the Phoenix Business Journal that provide some fundamental background information on the Internet of Things and how to deal with the challenges it presents: ansys-iot-wheelSimulation can play a big role in almost every aspect of making your IoT device development faster and more productive.  PADT uses ANSYS, Inc.'s comprehensive Multiphysics simulation tool set to model everything from the chip to the embedded system software. We highly recommend this white paper, "Engineering the Internet of Things" We also have a recording of a very popular webinar that we did: "Engineering the Internet of Things Devices with ANSYS Simulation" and this video on how ANSYS can drive your IoT Design: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ug6Jvn5ZMJs For detailed examples, check out the ANSYS IoT Landing page to get a feel for why so many companies are driving their design with ANSYS simulation software:  www.ansys.com/iot
PADT-Webinar-Logo Engineering the Internet of Things Devices with ANSYS Simulation June 21, 2016 (Tue) 1:00 PM AZ & PDT / 2:00 pm MDT

REGISTER

Make sure you subscribe to PADT's email list so you don't miss future Events

Talking is the Best Approach

We hope that you find all of the material above, and the information we will provide in the coming months useful. But they are no substitute for giving us a call or sending us an email and setting up a face-to-face to talk about your IoT strategy and device development needs.  If you are doing the work in-house, we have the hardware and software tools you need to be successful. If you need outside help, you won't find engineers with more applicable experience. Give us a call at 1-800-293-PADT or email info@padtinc.com. shutterstock_321231902

Synergy in Action, or How PADT is More than the Sum of its Parts

Posted on May 10, 2016, by: Andrew Miller

PADT-Company-Photo-2016-01-600wPADT talks a lot about synergy as a key strength and a key element of the value we provide to our customers. Our three departments, Manufacturing, Services, and Sales, are in constant communication, always leveraging one another’s expertise to solve problems. Strong internal relationships — a consequence of being under the same roof — precipitate easy and abundant information and resource sharing. Communication, paradigm, alignment, synergy: clear as day.

But what does any of that mean?

When a PADT product development customer meets us for the first time, he or she may be shown a slide that looks like this: synergy-f01 Strong bilateral communication among the Product Development, 3D Printing, and Analysis groups means that the project is enriched by contributions from experts across several fields, multiplying the value we add in the development process. For instance, the product will likely someday run into a sticky problem without a clear solution. PADT can attack it from multiple angles, such as design adjustment, finite element analysis (FEA) optimization, and the iterative testing of 3D printed prototypes.

Ok, but still: what does any of that mean?

A longtime customer of PADT’s product development group recently ran into an urgent problem without a clear path to a solution. Their manufacturing partner called them and said that a particular subassembly in their design will cost three times more than expected, which would raise the price of the product above the maximum the market would bear. PADT was presented with the problem: how do we reduce the subassembly cost by 66% while maintaining overall performance, and how do we confidently select a solution in under a week? PADT’s three engineering groups jumped in to help. The Product Development group held a brainstorming session and came out with two adjustments to bring overall cost down. First, the subassembly of three bonded unique steel parts would be replaced by a single injection molded plastic part. This change reduces component cost to within the target, but also significantly reduces the final assembly’s structural integrity.
synergy-f02

Reduction of 3 parts to 1 part

Secondly, a plastic stiffener truss was added between components to mitigate the reduction in overall stiffness. This change adds a little assembly cost, but also significantly increases the final assembly’s structural integrity, which had been weakened by the first change.
synergy-f03

Addition of Stiffening Member

The Analysis group conducted a series of FEA simulations, first to determine the increased bending under load and second to select a material to balance the conflicting requirements for stiffness, strength, and cost. After multiple simulation iterations, it was determined that Product Development had selected a permissible path forward and that a glass-filled polypropylene provides the best combination of the three parameters.
synergy-f04

Bending under load for Material Choices 1, 2, and 3

The 3D Printing group then printed the new design for qualitative “look and feel” testing and quantitative force/deflection study. The group was able to closely match the properties of the selected material from their collection of printable filaments and top-shelf industrial printers, reproducing even the fine details — subtle fillets, radii — that boost strength but are missed with lower quality printers. Through prototype tests, it was determined that Analysis selected an appropriate material and Product Development selected an appropriate design. In the end, PADT was able to confidently select a solution to the customer’s unique cost problem in under a week. Thanks to the synergy of three groups — Product Development, Analysis, and 3D Printing — the customer was able to stay on schedule and enter the market at a relevant price.

So how can PADT help my product?

PADT’s system for delivering services is a textbook example of synergy in action, and it represents a uniquely effective solution to your company’s product problems. Whether you’re in concept design or high-volume production, PADT will tailor-make a solution that fits your budget, schedule, and technical requirements. Give us a call at 1–800–293-PADT or email info@padtinc.com.

Video: Product Development with PADT: How We Make Innovation Work

Posted on May 4, 2016, by: Eric Miller

thumbnailProduct Development is a key part of what PADT does, but we often struggle with sharing what we do in this area and why we do it better. We are engineers.  To help, we put together this video that asks our engineers the key questions that customers ask every day, and their answers truly do show how "We Make Innovation Work." https://youtu.be/UM-hicIQiMk See something you like or have more questions, give us a call at 1-800-293-PADT or email info@padtinc.com. A big thanks to TechTHiNQ and CEI for producing this video.

Phoenix Business Journal: ​So, you have an idea for a product, what next?

Posted on April 6, 2016, by: Eric Miller

pbj-phoenix-business-journal-logoGetting a product from idea to the market is a lot of work. Much effort and attention is focused on figuring out the idea, but the part after that is usually portrayed as some romantic quest involving coffee, colocation spaces, and long hours.  In this article,​ "So, you have an idea for a product, what next?" we offer up some practical advice on the steps you need to take to get going.

Introducing Design Days: Free engineering consultation for Startups

Posted on March 25, 2016, by: Eric Miller

PADT_StartUpLabs-1PADT and CEI are teaming up to answer any startup's questions about engineering and manufacturing for their physical product. Over the years we have found lots of early stage companies who benefited from spending a little bit of time with an experienced product development engineer. Finding time for them to stop by PADT was always difficult to schedule and never seemed worked out. Or we would meet people at events and try and talk in a corner, still not good.cei_logo So last month during Phoenix StartupWeek CEI and PADT tried having some time where people could stop by and talk. It went really well for everyone involved, so Design Days was born. Our first one will be held on April 14, 2016 at CEI's offices in Phoenix.  The idea is simple, you get one hour with an experienced mechanical engineer to talk about whatever you want. We can spend the time talking about:
  • Suggestions for how to properly design your product
  • Get contacts at local resources that can help you
  • Brainstorm solutions to technical problems
  • Discuss the weather (it's your hour)
  • Get an idea of what it would take to design and prototype your product
  • Answer questions about software and hardware tools you may need
  • Bounce ideas off someone new
  • Review manufacturing options
  • Get advice on the next steps you should be taking
  • Or whatever else you want to discuss
You don't have to be an existing CEI client, a new company or an old one. You just need to want to talk to our engineers.   Sign up for one of the available one hour slots here.   Our plan is to do this once a month, and if it works, try some other incubators as well. Here is some basic information you should be aware of:
  • Do not ask for Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). PADT engineers operate under a strict company code of ethics; therefore no additional NDA is required.
  • This is meant for companies developing physical products, not software.
  • It is open to companies at ANY stage of development, not just startups. Entrepreneurs of any age, including students, are also welcome.
  • This is not a discussion about funding nor is it a sales pitch (from either side)
  • Do not expect a functioning prototype or design nor will PADT engineers solve your technical problems. To fully engage in PADT's design, prototyping and simulation services, there will be a cost involved to be agreed upon by both parties.
    padt-cei-design-days

    Our impromptu trial "Design Days" session during Phoenix StartupWeek.

Phoenix Business Journal: 5 reasons why nerds celebrate Pi Day

Posted on March 14, 2016, by: Eric Miller

pbj-phoenix-business-journal-logo Have you heard? It’s Pi Day! This post, "5 reasons why nerds celebrate Pi Day" shares the reasons why those of us in the know like Pi day so much. pie-pi

The 3D Printing Value Proposition

Posted on February 16, 2016, by: Dhruv Bhate, PhD

At a recent Lunch-n-Learn organized by the Arizona Technology Council, I had the opportunity to speak for 10 minutes on 3D printing. I decided to focus my talk on trying to answer one question: how can I determine if 3D printing can benefit my business? In this blog post, I attempt to expand on the ideas I presented there. While a full analysis of the Return-On-Investment would require a more rigorous and quantitative approach, I believe there are 5 key drivers that determine the value proposition for a company to invest in 3D printing, be it in the form of outsourced services or capital expenditure. If these drivers resonate with opportunities and challenges you see in your business, it is likely that 3D printing can benefit you.

1. Accelerating Product Development

3D printing has its origins in technologies that enabled Rapid Prototyping (RP), a field that continues to have a significant impact in product development and is one most people are familiar with. As shown in Figure 1, PADT's own product development process involves using prototypes for alpha and beta development and for testing. RP is a cost- and time effective way of iterating upon design ideas to find ones that work, without investing in expensive tooling and long lead times. If you work in product development you are very likely already using RP in your design cycle. Some of the considerations then become:
  • Are you leveraging the complete range of materials including high temperature polymers (such as ULTEM), Nylons and metals for your prototyping work? Many of these materials can be used in functional tests and not just form and fit assessments.
  • Should you outsource your RP work to a service bureau or purchase the equipment to do it in-house? This will be determined by your RP needs and one possibility is to purchase lower-cost equipment for your most basic RP jobs (using ABS, for example) and outsource only those jobs requiring specialized materials like the ones mentioned above.
PADT's Product Development process showing the role of prototypes (3D printed most of the time)

Figure 1. PADT's Product Development process showing the role of prototypes (most often 3D printed)

The video below contains several examples of prototypes made by PADT using a range of technologies over the past two decades.

2. Exploiting Design Freedom

Due to its additive nature, 3D printing allows for the manufacturing of intricate part geometries that are prohibitively expensive (or in some cases impossible) to manufacture with traditional means. If you work with parts and designs that have complex geometries, or are finding your designs constrained by the requirements of manufacturing, 3D printing can help. This design freedom can be leveraged for several different benefits, four of which I list below:

2.1 Internal Features

As a result of its layer-by-layer approach to manufacturing a part, 3D printing enables complex internal geometries that are cost prohibitive or even impossible to manufacture with traditional means. The exhaust gas probe in Fig. 2 was developed by RSC engineering in partnership with Concept Laser has 6 internal pipes surrounded by cooling channels and was printed as one part.
3D Printed Exhaust Gas Probe (RSC Engineering and Concept Laser Inc.)

Fig 2. 3D Printed Exhaust Gas Probe with intricate internal features (RSC Engineering and Concept Laser Inc.)

2.2 Strength-to-Weight Optimization

One of the reasons the aerospace industry has been a leader in the application of 3D printing is the fact that you are now able to manufacture complex geometries that emerge from a topology optimization solution and reduce component weight, as shown in the bracket manufactured by Airbus in Figure 3.
Titanium Airbus bracket made by Concept Laser on board the A350

Fig 3. Titanium Airbus bracket made by Concept Laser on board the A350

2.3 Assembly Consolidation

The ability to work in a significantly less constrained design space also allows the designer to integrate parts in an assembly thereby reducing assembly costs and sourcing headaches. The part below (also from Airbus) is a fuel assembly that integrated 10 parts into 1 printed part.
Airbus Fuel Assembly 3D printed out of metal (Airbus / Concept Laser)

Fig 4. Airbus Fuel Assembly 3D printed out of metal (Airbus / Concept Laser)

2.4 Bio-inspiration

Nature provides several design cues, optimized through the process of evolution over millenia. Some of these include lattices and hierarchical structures. 3D printing makes it possible to translate more of these design concepts into engineering structures and parts for benefits of material usage minimization and property optimization. The titanium implant shown in Figure 5 exploits lattice designs to optimize the effective modulus in different locations to more closely represent the properties of an individuals bone in that region.
Titanium implant leveraging lattice designs (Concept Laser)

Fig 5. Titanium implant leveraging lattice designs (Concept Laser)

3. Simplifying the Supply Chain, Reducing Lead Times

One of the most significant impacts 3D printing has is on lead time reduction, and this is the reason why it is the preferred technology for "rapid" prototyping. Most users of 3D printing for end-part manufacturing identify a 70-90% reduction in lead time, primarily as a result of not requiring the manufacturing of tooling, reducing the need to identify one or more suppliers. Additionally, businesses can reduce their supplier management burden by in-sourcing the manufacturing of these parts. Finally, because of the reduced lead times, inventory levels can be significantly reduced. The US Air Force sees 3D printing as a key technology in improving their sustainability efforts to reduce the downtime associated with aircraft awaiting parts. Airbus recently also used 3D printing to print seat belt holders for their A310 - the original supplier was out of business and the cost and lead time to identify and re-tool a new supplier were far greater than 3D printed parts.

4. Reducing Costs for High Mix Low Volume Manufacturing

According to the 2015 Wohlers report, about 43% of the revenue generated in 3D printing comes from the manufacturing of functional, or end-use parts. When 3D printing is the process of choice for the actual manufacturing of end-use parts, it adds a direct cost to each unit manufactured (as opposed to an indirect R&D cost associated with developing the product). This cost, when compared to traditional means of manufacturing, is significantly lower for high mix low volume manufacturing (High Mix - LVM), and this is shown in Figure 6 for two extreme cases. At one extreme is mass customization, where each individual part has a unique geometry of construction (e.g. hearing aids, dental aligners) - in these cases, 3D printing is very likely to be the lowest cost manufacturing process. At the other end of the spectrum is High Volume Manufacturing (HVM) (e.g. semiconductor manufacturing, children's toys), where the use of traditional methods lowers costs. The break-point lies somewhere in between and will vary by the the part being produced and the volumes anticipated. A unit cost assessment that includes the cost of labor, materials, equipment depreciation, facilities, floor space, tooling and other costs can aid with this determination.
Chart showing how volumes drive unit prices and where 3D Printing can be the cheaper option

Fig 6. Chart showing how volumes drive unit prices and where 3D Printing can be the cheaper option for low volumes and high mix manufacturing

5. Developing New Applications

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of 3D printing is how people all around the world are using it for new applications that go beyond improving upon conventional manufacturing techniques. Dr. Anthony Atala's 2011 TED talk involved the demonstration of an early stage technique of depositing human kidney cells that could someday aid with kidney transplants (see Figure 7). Rarely does a week go by with some new 3D printing application making the news: space construction, 3D surgical guides, customized medicine to name a few. The elegant and intuitive method of building something layer-by-layer lends itself wonderfully to the imagination. And the ability to test and iterate rapidly with a 3D printer by your side allows for accelerating innovation at a rate unlike any manufacturing process that has come before it.
Dr. Anthony Atala showing a 3D printed kidney [Image Attr. Steve Jurvetson]

Fig 7. Dr. Anthony Atala showing a 3D printed kidney [Image Attr. Steve Jurvetson, Wikimedia Commons]

Conclusion

As I mentioned in the introduction, if you or your company have challenges and needs in one or more of the 5 areas above, it is unlikely to be a question of whether 3D printing can be of benefit to you (it will), but one of how you should best invest in it for maximum return. Further, it is likely that you will accrue a combination of benefits (such as assembly consolidation and supply simplification) across a range of parts, making this technology an attractive long term investment. At PADT, we offer 3D printing both as a service and also sell most of the printers we use on a daily basis and are thus well positioned to help you make this assessment, so contact us!