My Saga of Using 3D Printing as a Prototyping Method When I started developing my first product, my assumptions about 3D printing cost me time and money, finite resources for any entrepreneur. Taking my design from a napkin to a functioning prototype was the goal, but as a newbie, I had to learn a few things about utilizing 3D printing as a method to prototype. Buyer Beware!
Do not buy a 3D printer without the advice of an expert and a general understanding of the 3D printing process. As you probably know, although 3D printers have become more commonplace and affordable, they can be expensive and technically complex. I spent about $30k on a large-scale 3D printer - a seven-foot-tall monster- that required considerable technical competence to use and maintain. Everyone I hired to work with the machine experienced so much technical difficulty that, at one point, I thought the project was doomed to failure. Though the printer produced prototypes, they were not water-tight, an essential feature for my product. No amount of professional coding or tinkering could solve it and at one point I resorted to dipping the prints in liquid rubber to make them water-tight. I wasn’t going to be defeated, so I gathered more information and replaced the unnecessary giant with seven smaller Ender 3 Pros, at a fraction of the cost. They are easy to use and can manufacture water-tight prototypes with ease. Success! Who Will Design, Code, and 3D Print? Unlike writing, numbers have never been an academic strength. Inventors who do not possess math or mechanical skills will have a steeper learning curve transforming a design concept into a 3D printable g-code. I relied on my ability to strategically plan and win competitive grants to hire the right people for the job. In between grant funding, however, I felt powerless. It would have benefited me to have a basic understanding of computer automated design or CAD software. I still struggle, but have learned a lot. Beginner, browser-based CAD software, such as TinkerCAD has been very useful for the GSS Group enabling us to quickly modify and print our design for internal tests. Key Takeaways. 3D printing is an effective method to produce prototypes and test new design ideas. But when you start, buy a small, inexpensive 3D printer with plenty of reviews and lots of online resources. Then, download TinkerCAD and watch their high-quality training videos. For inventors with a dream, but a weakness in math, don’t give up. Connect with your local university or state agencies to identify programs for first-time entrepreneurs. Though my experiences are limited to what Arkansas provides, I have had significant success with many state programs. Ask for help to solve specific problems by hiring qualifies consultants and contractors. Talk to people who are doing what you need to be done (prepare and win a grant, prepare a patent, learn to manufacture a product, etc.).