In many ways, we are already living in the future. As the rate of technology development continues to accelerate, ideas that were once considered far-out science fiction are becoming daily realities.
3D printing is one of those emerging fields, like something from an Isaac Asimov novel, where objects are constructed, seemingly, from thin air. This technology is innovating and forever altering the way we think about engineering and manufacturing.
Collin Kobayashi, from the Hawaiian design firm 3D Innovations, took a few moments to discuss this emerging field; the challenges that face a CAD designer when designing for 3D; and his favorite CAD workstations and software.
For those that aren't aware, can you introduce us to 3D Innovations, as well as the world of 3D printing at large? When did you get started, and what inspired you to create a 3D printing company in the first place?
3D Innovations provides product design, prototyping, and manufacturing services, helping clients with developing ideas from concept to product.
What, in your opinion, separates 3D Innovation from the rest of the 3D printing companies out there?
Our focus is not only 3D printing, but on the entire product development process and integrating 3D printing as one solution to providing functional prototypes.
In the introductory video to 3D Innovations, you talk about 3D printing saving time and resources. Would you elaborate on this?
Most of our projects entail designs that are complex in shape/geometry. Because this is the case, 3D printing is more economical and quicker to produce compared to traditional prototyping methods such as subtractive manufacturing (CNC machining). In most cases, 3D printing allows us to make several iterations of the design in the same day, making design changes quickly and putting the prototype in the clients' hands faster.
In what ways do you predict that 3D printing will revolutionize industry?
Initial 3D printers and processes were limited to various types of plastic such as ABS, nylon, and other polymers. With the introduction of metal 3D printing several years ago, it has opened up other industries and applications to adopt 3D printing as a standard, not an option. Large aerospace companies are beginning to integrate 3D printed parts into their products. Development of new materials and technology to build parts is evolving and a fast pace. These new, revolutionary developments will drive the 3D printing/additive manufacturing industry into areas that will change the market. Such industries are medical, food, and biotechnology, to name a few. By using 3D printing over conventional manufacturing methods, designs can be more complex while increasing their functionality.
You talk about rapid prototyping being one of the advantages of 3D printing. Can you give a couple of real-world examples of this, and why it's helpful?
In most applications, having the ability to 3D print a prototype for testing form, fit, and function is extremely critical. When tolerances are not crucial, 3D printing is a far more cost-effective and efficient option than having the parts CNC machined. For one particular project, we needed to build a prototype of a miniature cooler design. This product was unique and had multiple parts with some complex features and details. It was designed to be injection molded and to have a set or several sets of these prototypes made would have cost well over $10,000 to produce. By using 3D printing to build the parts, the cost and lead time was reduced significantly, allowing the customer to receive the parts in a shorter amount of time. Because the project only required several prototypes, it wasn't cost effective to even make "soft tooling" to produce the low amount of prototypes needed, so 3D printing really made the most sense.
To take advantage of 3D printing, you have to start with 3D models. Can you talk about some other ways that 3D CAD differs from traditional CAD drawing?
Traditional drawings, sometimes referred to in our industry as "shop drawings," have been mostly superseded by 3D design solutions. CAD/CAM was the first set of methods to adopt this practice, translating 3D digital design data directly into the manufacturing machine's software more efficiently than manual translation. By using a 3D digital design process, we are able to create designs and validate them with up to 95% certainty that they will work before even building a prototype. Integrating other processes such as FEA (finite-element analysis) and CFD (computational fluid dynamics) tools with the digital design process will help to predict the functionality. This would not be achievable from 2D drawings, as no computational data exists. In addition to these design tools, having a 3D digital design will enable us and the client to see the product fully assembled, view it from all angles and visualize the entire design digitally.
Can you give us a walk-through of your equipment setup?
We use mobile CAD workstations (Dell Precision M6700s). This allows us to take our office wherever we need to go, be it to client sites for meetings or to offsite conferences where we have direct access to data. Most mobile CAD workstations are comparatively powerful to traditional [desktop] workstations and provide for a flexible design environment. In general, this setup works well. Some downsides to this are "tower" workstations may have more power than mobile workstations but are less accessible for offsite applications.
With tablet technology, are your engineers able to sketch ideas into the CAD program? If so, how has this affected your workflow?
Tablets are typically used for capturing ideas and client requirements when onsite. Because most 3D CAD programs require higher-end computing power, tablets aren't used much in our design process. They do come in handy for mobile presentations where only a viewer is required to present the data. This is less graphics- and RAM-intensive and provides a method to review design data with non-CAD users.
Is business flourishing? Are people starting to catch on to the possibilities of 3D printing?
3D printing and additive manufacturing is becoming the fastest growing industry. It has expanded into areas that serve both consumer and business markets. Consumer-grade equipment is providing more accessibility to users with a low-cost entry point, making it attractive to hobbyists or home users who want to explore this industry. One of the biggest misconceptions is that all 3D printing is the same. There are many different 3D printing technologies, materials, processes, and manufacturers. Each has varying capabilities, tolerances, and surface finishes. Each type of 3D printing can be classified into three categories: idea, design, production. Each has its own capabilities and limitations. In general, there is a solution for each type of need whether you are a consumer, pro-sumer, or professional looking to utilize this technology.