Manufacturing Engineering

3D Printing: How An Engineering Prototype Can Be A Great Communicator

Even if a manufacturer doesn't use 3D printing to produce deliverable parts, the technology can still be a powerful tool for communicating ideas. 3D printing illustrates discussions between both internal and external stakeholders, enabling manufacturers and engineers to communicate better with both their teams and their customers.

3D Printing as a Unifying Communication Tool

By using a 3D printer to create an engineering prototype, a manufacturer creates a physical rendering that can be used to communicate ideas far more efficiently than any two-dimensional drawing. These models are excellent tools to get multiple parties on the same page, especially when they have different specialties and areas of expertise.

There are numerous benefits of creating 3D printed prototypes for everyone on the team including:

  • Machinists or welders will understand where they will face limited access to a feature. This enables them to plan in advance for special tooling or techniques prior to production.
  • Engineers can use a small plastic model of a large metal part to strategize how to manipulate, move and lift the part with cranes.
  • Planners, machinists, subcontractors and customers can hand off the same 3D printed model from team to team during different stages of long-term projects, which can last for years.

3D Printing Enters the Mainstream

3D Printing is common enough now that clients expect manufactures to speak the language of the technology, and vice versa. It is not uncommon for clients to create their own 3D models and then bring them to the manufacturer to communicate their ideas, desires, concerns or proposed changes.

3D printing can create models that unify employees, contractors and clients from the beginning of a project to the end. There is no substitute for physically pointing to a spot on a model to articulate exactly which area needs to be changed. Even if they don't create useable parts, manufacturers are finding that 3D printing streamlines planning and improves communication like no other resource can.