A win, win, win
Most design departments face the same three challenges when developing new products: speed to launch, quality, and budget. At APL, our designers were quick to embrace 3D printing as a powerful tool to help them rapidly optimise their designs while simultaneously refining quality and reducing development costs. As new technologies go, it’s been a game-changer.
Machines have personalities, too. Our set of 3D printers include a much-modified, slightly finicky kitset printer that has the great virtue of being able to print in a variety of different materials, allowing the designers to replicate the ‘feel’ of the components they’re testing.
Its stablemate is a multijet printer – a ProJet MJP 2500 Plus, to be precise – capable of producing high-resolution components that are extremely accurate to CAD models.
Our most recently acquired 3D printer uses a VAT Polymerisation printing method with Direct Light Processing (DLP) technology. This offers even more material options for us to quickly and accurately create prototype components and develop new products.
Need for speed
In a nutshell, 3D printing brings speed and subtracts cost. APL’s designers use printers in the first instance for design confirmation. Instead of having to machine or procure prototypes, they can print as they go to quickly verify which concepts are worth pursuing, dramatically shortening the design phase of a project. For similar reasons, APL uses 3D technology to produce small volume and one-off products.
Design for manufacture
We’re in the business of designing products that need to be assembled, and for years CAD software has been a useful tool to visualise how components come together. But there’s no substitute for holding a component in your hand and doing a trial assembly. Printing in 3D offers a fool-proof method to ensure window fabricators will be able to put our products together easily.
Testing is critical to developing high quality products. Having the freedom and flexibility to quickly print varying versions of components to trial in the test booth enables us to achieve the perfect shape before we commit to tooling-up for manufacture.