Archive for August, 2013

Design, Materials and Manufacturing Processes – When all you have is a hammer…..

Author: Stefan Stalgren Aug 26, 2013 Posted in: Blog > Design

A wise man once said; When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Regardless of education, training and experience, getting comfortable with what you know and what was used in the past are common pitfalls, and especially if you have limited experience and resources.

Wood Frame Chopper

Now, there may be good reasons for all of this.  A limited budget and availability of parts and processes as well as limited time, are always considerations and for any project. Some projects are just a lot lengthier and expensive than others.

I’m certainly not here to make a case for instead overthinking and making parts and products overly complex and expensive for no good reason. Rather, a first good step may always be to do some quick research on similar products and or similar parts with somewhat similar function but found in other products. There’s usually a good reason why the fundamentals look the way they do.

Design in nature is pretty much perfect (geometry, materials, and everything else). Just look around, outside – beyond human interference, and you will see a perfect balance between form and function. Similarly, most man made parts and products that have been around for a long time tend to mature into a reasonably efficient form and function. That said, although it may hard to see, we are constantly making advances (Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age ……) and technologies and processes develop continuously. A hammer no longer have to have a wooden handle. That sounds basic, and you probably knew that already. It is a good example though, and it’s a pretty recent ‘discovery’.

What I’m trying to get to is how extremely common it is to find projects where the basic concept, technology and materials have remained relatively stagnant. Good examples are vacuum cleaners (pre-Dyson), top loaded washer machines, home ceiling fans, and many more. Now, this is good news as there’s ample room for a better mouse trap to be built and replace these products. If combined with advances in materials and manufacturing processes, almost any regular product can be made considerably more efficient and reasonably quickly. That is, if you want to be in the business of making e.g., vacuum cleaners…. 😉

Misconceptions of 3D printing

Author: Stefan Stalgren Aug 15, 2013 Posted in: Blog > News

Prototyping has made some giant strides in terms of availability and affordability. We use it a lot. Some believe it’s a recent development, but I would say it has been a pretty steady progression. As it has been made more readily available to a broader audience, there’s also a lot more confusion and misconceptions of what it is. Some has us believe that it is a replacement for traditional manufacturing and others believe you can print anything and bypass conventional engineering and fundamental scientific principles. Now, wouldn’t that be awesome! However, neither of these beliefs naturally hold up to closer scrutiny. Materials that can be formed into a desired 3D shape in your living room environment unfortunately also have a very hard time competing with materials formed at elevated temperatures, whether it is plastic, metal or ceramic materials. Properties of these conventional materials usually go straight back to the basic building blocks of the materials, be it a polymer chain, lattice type and/or crystal structure. The periodic Table of Elements tells you a great deal about the basic properties of whatever substrate of choice. For example, if iron (basic element of steel alloys) is melting around 1,500 degrees Celsius, I would think of it as a better basis for making a scalpel used in surgery than a PolyStyrene Picnic utensil. This is just an example, but I’m providing it in order to make a point. Parts made with 3D printing and or StereoLithography are great tools in the overall design and development process. However, they have limitations and are not substitutes for traditional manufacturing processes. Think of them as complements rather than substitutes.

It is wonderful to 3D CAD files and photo realistic renderings for show and tell. It is even better to have physical samples to show your audience and it may even allow you to quickly prove partial of or complete functionality of product ideas/concepts. I don’t think there are any makers of this type of equipment that seriously make the claim to have made conventional manufacturing processes obsolete. It’s the perception to the general public and professionals in fields other than engineering that sometimes gets out of hand. The wrong expectations can lead to a lot of disappointment. That is probably true of a lot of things though. For example, I have seen a lot of articles and video’s of 3D enabling weapons to be built and bypassing regulations and laws. Although you could print parts for a rifle or pistol, please don’t ever try to use them as substitutes for the real parts made of the correct materials. The original parts, most often made from heat treated special steel alloys, have a hard enough time to survive the forces involved in the controlled explosion taking place when firing a round.

Although accuracy of even reasonably priced prototyping equipment is quite remarkable, it will not compete with the consistency of traditional volume production processes. Moreover, although the choice of available materials have grown, they are still almost non-existent compared to the plethora of choices for conventional manufacturing processes  It is of course rarely advantageous from a time or monetary perspective to produce volume production parts in prototyping equipment. Again, there is a time and place for this type of prototyping process, and the benefits of being able to try new ideas and visualize it to yourself, your team or even potential investors/customers, is worth a lot. It helps shave or save tremendous design and development costs / time over more traditional methods.

There’s definitely a time and place for 3D printing and other prototyping methods. It is however likely very rarely a substitute for real tools and real materials as well as the knowledge and craftsmanship learned over considerable time producing traditional parts and products. I hope the current prototyping equipment keeps advancing what is already possible, and to a ever growing customer base. At some point in time it could and should result in more real manufacturing opportunities of real mass produced parts and products. I believe that’s where we all want to be.