3D printing – what you need to know!

Posted on 20/11/2014 by Chadanuch Pomankul

3D Printer

Without a doubt, one of most rapid developments over the last ten years has been the rise of 3D printing for the masses. 3D printers used to be in the tens and hundreds of thousands of USD (and still are depending what you look for), but now even consumers can get their hands on a printer for a few hundred USD.

But there are limits to 3D printing. In the same way as an inkjet printer is not enough to print a newspaper, a 3D printer will get you only so far in Product Development particularly for prototyping.

First of all, you always need to keep in mind that a printer’s limitation, no matter whether it’s an inkjet printer or 3D printer, is always the input file.

If your layout sucks, your printout also sucks.

If the 3D CAD you feed the printer with is faulty, the resulting object will also be.

So rule number one is: make sure your CAD is properly engineered.

3D printers work great for hobbies and for one-off products. However, in the Product Development process they are of limited use.

If your only goal is to see a rough version of the object or product you are about to develop in real life, a 3D printer will do the trick.

But if you are further advanced in the process and want to verify whether the engineering is workable for tooling and mass production, meaning making sure all parts fit together, the mainstream 3D printer don’t work (yet).


Because it’s all about tolerance.

In engineering, the tolerance level defines the margin of error. No product is exactly, say 55mm in diameter. Some products that come out of the machine will measure at 55.000001mm, some might be 54.999998mm. In production, there is a margin of error that is permitted, and that’s called the tolerance.

“Cheap” 3D printers (below USD 10K) typically have a tolerance of one mm. While that sounds very small for most of us, for engineers one millimetre is massive! A fraction of a millimetre can define whether a case fits your phone perfectly or whether it moves around inside the case in your hands.

So if you want to 3D print an object or product, make sure you got a proper CAD first. Once this is done, you need to think what you want to do with the 3D printed object. As a first view it’s fine, but if you want a prototype, you most likely will have to go for a CNC prototype.

Get in touch with us if you have more questions regarding prototyping and 3D printing