As every designer knows, there’s magic in transforming a great idea into a tangible and useful object you can hold in your hand. It can be a consumer good on a store shelf, a critical component of an industrial machine, or even an early physical prototype that unveils your new idea to the world.
Physical prototypes – basic and blocky or wonderfully realized in shape, texture and color – go far beyond drawings or computer models to communicate your vision in a dramatic way. They empower the observer to investigate the product and interact with it rather than simply guess what it might be like. Before the product is ever produced, people can touch it; feel it; turn it left, right and upside down; and look inside. They can test it, operate it and fully evaluate it – long before the finished product is brought to market.
Until recently, a quick and affordable physical prototype has been an oxymoron. Obtaining prototypes wasn’t quick. It meant contracting with a fabricator who handcrafted them or used a complicated stereolithography machine. In either case, it took weeks, and it wasn’t affordable. You were billed thousands of dollars for your trouble.
And who needs just one prototype? Successful product developers revise a design repeatedly until they approach their ideal. Physical prototypes available on demand in ample quantities accelerate the design process, and more quickly send a better product to market.
This ideal is in fact a reality for some of the world’s most accomplished and demanding designers and engineers. Available within a couple of hours of hitting “print” on a quiet, clean and sleek machine in an everyday office setting, on-demand prototypes today help engineering organizations: • improve communication within the product development organization;
This paper covers the inception and evolution of 3D printing; explores in depth how a 3D printer produces a physical model; and examines the defining attributes of a ZPrinter and the technology decisions that produced them.
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