Is prototyping dead?
You might reasonably think so if all you read are the pervasive stories about 3D printed cars and airplanes, metal-based 3D printer launches and the outrageous valuations of some 3D printing companies that solely serve direct manufacturing applications.
In fact, I just opened an email from Digital Engineering and read the headline: “3D printing or additive manufacturing (AM), once thought of as a prototyping technology, has graduated to become a way to manufacture end-use parts.”
DE didn’t say ‘expanded’ or ‘evolved.’ Rather, they used the word, ‘graduated,’ signifying the end of one stage (prototyping) and the start of another (direct manufacturing).
These two applications aren’t mutually exclusive. And, no, prototyping is far from dead.
It cannot be denied that direct manufacturing applications for 3D printing are growing at a much faster pace than prototyping, because it is an emerging market thanks to companies like Rize that have made significant advances in materials suitable for end-use parts. It’s progress and, like virtually everyone in this industry, we firmly believe in the 3D printing for direct manufacturing market and that Rize is the best-suited 3D printing technology to serve production and manufacturing applications across automotive, aerospace, military, consumer, industrial, healthcare and pharmaceutical organizations for custom and replacement tooling and end-use products.
But, does that mean the 3D printing industry should abandon prototyping as an application of the past? According to Ernst and Young, 84% of all companies using 3D printing use the technology for prototyping in their product development process (EY-global-3d-printing-report-2016).
I talk with current and prospective customers every day about their 3D printing needs and, while many are evaluating 3D printing for production and manufacturing applications, the vast majority of the companies I speak with continue to seek 3D printers to meet their prototyping needs.
As long as new products continue to be designed, those designs will need to be prototyped, tested for form, fit and function, iterated, reviewed and approved before entering into production. And the importance of 3D printers to speed the R&D process, improve accuracy and reduce costs to get more competitive products to market faster, will only increase.
So, while we at Rize will continue to highlight the unique applications of our APD additive manufacturing technology for the production of spare parts, tooling and customized end-use products, we won’t shy away from talking about the advantages of Rize 3D printers in prototyping, particularly for functional testing, in the design and engineering office, lab or in the field.