Additive manufacturing brings exploration, flexibility and creativity to product design in ways that never could have been imagined before. In other words, late-stage prototype ‘do-overs’ are now possible—and affordable, which yields materials and products that can ultimately be built to do exactly what they are needed to do, regardless of the number of times it takes to get it right.
Remember the ‘good old days’ of manufacturing, when experimenting with new materials, structures and product design was severely limited by resources? Well, for many manufacturers, the ‘good old days’ are still here. Deploying additive manufacturing techniques is still on the front end of technology, but innovative manufacturers are doing some pretty astounding things with it.
Take Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, for example. LLNL works with external partners to develop fabrics that are optimized for specialized use (like bullet-proof vests). The LLNL engineers use computer modeling to experiment with the structural, functional and thermal characteristics of materials to come up with potential solutions. The models are uploaded to additive manufacturing machines and prototypes are created to spec. If the engineers don’t like it, they can change the model and upload again. These machines create an exact sample, with a minimum amount of waste.
In their paper Design Optimization for Additive Manufacturing, LLNL describes it like this:
“Design optimization for additive manufacturing is used to create designs that fully exploit the capabilities of these newer manufacturing processes, and explore that design space more efficiently. These methods help speed experimental redesign, allowing researchers to manipulate input parameters and simulate outcomes tailored for a specific fabrication technique. As a result, researchers can determine the best design options for achieving a material with a desired resolution and geometry.”
Lehrmitt Design Studios uses Additive Manufacturing for Prototype Design
In our wallcovering and product surface design business, we also adhere to the principal of using additive manufacturing for rapid prototyping and reducing costs by using 3D printing technology.
There’s kind of an interesting story about how we got there.
Our journey with 3D printing began the same way a lot of innovation begins—with frustration. We were sending our wallcovering designs to embossing roller manufacturers, and we weren’t getting back what we had asked for. Sometimes, the changes were subtle. But at other times, we felt the whole design had been compromised.
Our embossing rollers are manufactured all over the world. We thought it would be a good idea to switch to a universal language to describe what we were looking for. Everybody knows the language of art and form.
By using 3D printing technology, we’ve been able to duplicate our wallcovering designs in a tactile way. We figured out how to convert our 2D designs into 3D files and print—while still maintaining the integrity of our designs.
Now that we are providing our manufacturers with actual samples of how we want the embossing rollers to look, we can expect the embossing rollers to be replicas of our original work.
Solving a problem leads to new paths
When we saw how well we could duplicate our designs, we began developing some of our product designs using 3D printing. Before long, we expanded our applications from wallcoverings to consumer product surfaces—and chocolate candy surface design.
Isn’t that how many new products and services are born? By solving problems, innovative product designers tend to see the world in a whole new way. And then they do something about it.