I think we can all agree that 3D printing (additive manufacturing) is grabbing headlines at the moment largely because there are so many affordable 3D printing machines appearing on the market and so many technologies and additive materials. Subtractive manufacturing on the other hand is much less in the public eye but worth discussing in this article.
So, is additive or subtractive manufacturing something you should be considering for your next product? Let’s look at the basic types of additive technologies to get started.
Stereolithogrophy(SLa) is a process where resin is cured with light in layers. The advantage of this method is accuracy and quality of finish. The disadvantages of this method is material choice and ultimately material strength. SLa parts may have a support structure that needs to be removed. This is the most expensive process.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is a process where powdered material is fused by a laser in layers. The advantage of this method is strength of material and accuracy. The disadvantage is material choice and surface finish. SLS parts require no support structure as the part is supported by the powder that it sits in. This process is cheaper than SLa.
Fused deposition modelling (FDM) is where an extruded plastic filament is fed into a heated nozzle and melted into position in layers. The advantages of this method are low cost, availability of inexpensive printers and material choice and strength. The disadvantages are slow build speed, low accuracy and poor surface finish. FDM parts typically have a support structure but this can be done with a second material that is water soluble.
There are other types of 3D printing technology but in basic terms you either fuse powder, cure resin or melt filament using different methods. So which method do you choose? Do you buy a printer and do it yourself or do you choose a supplier and buy from them? Let’s look at the key differences between the technologies and how you might use them.
FDM parts will be cheapest but lowest accuracy and are the most easily printed on your own sub £5k printer. This method may not be good enough for customer visible parts although the technology is improving all of the time so this may change. The quality of parts from a sub £1000 printer will be of poor quality, poor repeatability and poor strength where parts produced on a more expensive printer would be much better. I would recommend looking at machines with a double filament nozzle and good resolution. This type of printed part is typically used to make low cost prototype parts during a development programme or low cost jigs and fixtures.
SLA parts are typically used for high quality prototyping at the end of a development project to verify fit and function of a design prior to going into full production tooling. The parts are generally not tough, strong, flexible or UV stable enough to be used in full production and are expensive to produce. The parts need to be stabilised with IPA and then cured with UV light before use. SLA parts are commonly made on more expensive machines used by bureau services.
SLS parts are very strong, flexible or tough and are low enough in cost to be usable for production parts. For customer facing parts a vibro finish would need to be applied to improve surface finish. SLS parts can be dyed to a number of colours but typically they are either left off-white or black. Again, SLS parts are commonly made on larger more expensive machines used by bureau services.
So what about subtractive manufacturing? As the name suggests, this is about removing material to create a part rather than adding it. This typically relates to machining or CNC machining of metal and plastic parts but would also cover laser cutting, waterjet cutting and sheet metal punching and forming. There is little in the way of affordable units for in house subtractive manufacturing bar a few small CNC desktop prototyping units so this is typically sourced from 3rd party specialists or is integral to the business you are running. Parts made by a subtractive method are as accurate as you need them to be and the choice of materials is limited only by what you can cut. Prices are high to higher depending on quantity and accuracy.
So should you buy a machine and make parts in house or use a supplier or bureau service? Buying parts in will give you the best quality and variety of parts in the best materials but at inflated prices, as the supplier has to make profit and pay for the investment they have made in their 3D printers. Making parts in house means a capital outlay of between £2k and £10k. You need to do the maths to work out what’s best for you.
If you are considering purchasing a 3d printing machine to produce production parts, I would be inclined to go with SLS as there is no support structure to remove and the parts can be nested together very efficiently, making the parts cheaper. Take a look at Sinterit.
If all you are interested in is accuracy, then you would be better off with an SLa printer, so something like the Formlabs Form 2. SLa parts made using the right resin can be used for casting, so ideal for jewellery makers.
If you just want to explore 3D printing and what it could do for your business, then I would suggest getting on board with a mid-priced FDM machine, so something like an Ultimaker 3. Finally, if you are an individual looking to play with 3D printing on a budget then a low cost sub £500 machine can be had.
Let’s now consider traditional production manufacturing techniques. The media have made lots of noise about the future of 3D printing and how we will be using it to produce parts for production. I’m sure they are right but we are not quite there yet. If you are planning on producing highly customisable products in low quantity then consider 3D printing as an option. If you want to make strong accurate parts in low volume then subtractive manufacturing would give you the accuracy and strength of materials required. But if you want to mass produce parts in plastic with little or no customisation then look at traditional techniques like injection moulding, blow moulding, die-casting and extruding. This type of manufacturing requires an upfront investment to create the tools that make the parts, so this is only suitable for quantities of around 1000 or higher.
So where does this leave us? Every product and every company will have different requirements, high volumes; low volumes; customisation; accuracy; strength; surface finish; colour and more often than not ‘low cost’, so it’s safe to say that I can’t impart enough knowledge or wisdom in this blog to allow you to make a decision about manufacturing your next product. I hope I have given you some insight into the different technologies and what might be worth considering for your next product.
One last thing I want to end on. I think the most interesting aspect to the additive manufacturing story lies in using the process to make the tools that make the mass produced parts. Mass produced parts are moulded from a metal tool that is costly and slow to make using subtractive manufacturing methods. This means that to mass produce a part requires a large up-front cost. A recent trip to a 3D printing show revealed some interesting developments in this area where 3D printing materials are being developed to replace that metal tool and therefore lower the upfront cost and time to mass produce parts. I will be keeping a very keen eye on these future developments!
With the New Year holiday now behind us, I thought it would be a good idea to post up a blog to let all of our followers know about the current situation with obtaining grants for research, innovation and the development of new products.
InnovateUK – Formally the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) is a really good place to start looking for funding. Funding is done through competitions. Some are quite focussed on a specific area of science or expertise, some are focussed more on a specific stage of the development process. The preferred markets are emerging and enabling technologies, health and life sciences, infrastructure systems, and manufacturing and material.
Go to https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/innovate-ukfor more information.
R&D Tax relief/credits – If you are liable for corporation tax, i.e. you are a UK trading company, you are potentially eligible for R&D tax relief/credits. For SME’s this could give you up to 33% back, for larger corporations up to 10%. A project qualifies if it constitutes an "advance” in science and technology, and that’s defined as an improvement in overall knowledge and capability in a technical field. An example to clarify: You wouldn’t get funding for a project to re-design a screwdriver with a new handle, but you might qualify if the handle was made of a new material with technical properties.
Go to https://www.gov.uk/guidance/corporation-tax-research-and-development-rd-relieffor more information.
Horizon 2020 – is an EU framework programme for research and innovation. The UK Government has chosen to underwrite Horizon 2020 projects beyond the UK’s exit from the EU so it looks like funding for UK companies is still possible but I would advise checking the situation if you’re thinking about applying.
Go to https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/what-horizon-2020for general information.
The 2016/17 programme is here http://ec.europa.eu/research/participants/data/ref/h2020/wp/2016_2017/main/h2020-wp1617-intro_en.pdf
Eurostars – is a research and development funding programme aimed at SME’s. It is a joint venture between Eureka and the European Commission through Horizon 2020. In the UK, it is only research performing SME’s are eligible and this looks to be in conjunction with Innovate UK.
Go to https://www.eurostars-eureka.eu/about-eurostarsfor more information.
The Patent Box – This is a relatively new scheme to allow companies that hold Patents to claim a reduced corporation tax rate on profits made from IP. As of April 2013, a company can reduce CT to 10%. Companies that are licensing IP from an IP holder can also claim this lower tax but must meet the criteria.
Go to https://www.gov.uk/guidance/corporation-tax-the-patent-boxto find out more.
So you’re looking to engage with a design consultancy to design your next product. How do you get the design you want? The product that is going to beat the competition, the perfect product to make your company successful? A simple and clearly written design brief, that’s how!
It doesn’t matter if you are an inventor with an idea, a start up with new tech or an established SME with a range of products that you want to make more cost effectively. The single most important part of any new development is an effective design brief. Without one, it is almost impossible to develop a successful product.
This blog post will help you to write the perfect design brief that will be beneficial to you and the designer you engage with.
So what is a design brief?
A design brief is a document that provides the designer with all of the information they will need in order to complete the task and meet your expectations. It also allows you, the client, to focus on exactly what you want to achieve before any work is carried out.
A Product brief is critical to getting the most out of designers as they can focus on what is required and not waste time on the wrong tasks.
How to write a good design brief.
1. Information about you
Firstly you should start off by introducing yourself and your company. What is the nature of your business? What do you do? How long have you been doing it? What industry sector do you operate in and any niche market info you have. Be clear and concise and avoid unnecessary information that is not relevant to the product.
2. What is the product?
So the designers are going to need to know what it is you want them to design. What is it called? What does it do? What are the key features or benefits? What need does it fulfil or problem does it solve? How does it fit in with your other products? How is it better than the competitors’ products?
3. What are your aims or goals and why?
List them with reasons for each. Is it to increase sales, to obtain information from clients, to reduce manufacturing costs or to embrace a new technology for instance? How do you differ from the competition? There could be a number of reasons that I’ve not listed so please explain why as it will give the designers a much better understanding of the project.
4. Who is the target audience?
Ideally you should have researched this and should be able to tell the designers who the product is aimed at. Their age, sex, income, occupation, location and any other important information. Providing evidence of your research will give the designers more confidence that you understand who will buy your product.
5. Tell us what you don’t know
You may not have answers to all of these questions. This is OK, so long as you don’t guess or make stuff up! Just say in the brief that you don’t know and list one of your deliverables as completing the product design brief. It’s also fine to ask questions. Designers will question everything anyway, it’s what we do, so again, just make this part of the scope of work required.
6. Standards, compliance, environmental
What standards does the new product need to meet? What environmental conditions will the product need to withstand? Will it operate independently or part of a larger system? Be as specific as you can here but if you don’t know then say so.
It may be useful to tell the designer how far you have come on your journey. If you have completed months of research then mention it and include the research as an attachment to the document. If you have successfully or otherwise completed a round of concept generation then include this information to prevent the designer covering old ground.
8. Scope of the work required
It is important to clearly state the scope of the work that you wish a designer to undertake. You may only want them to create concept designs instead of a complete turn-key service from research to production. What are the deliverable you require?
9. Budgets and timescales.
Is there a specific launch date that is important? What is the retail price of the product? What finances do you have in place to fund the development? How much do you want to spend on the development? If there’s no specific launch date, what timescales are you looking to achieve?
10. Tips and techniques
The brief should be open enough to inspire ideas and creativity, yet specific enough to prevent drift from the core requirements? Define what’s not how’s - focus on goals not solutions so "strong and light” instead of "made from aluminium”. You should outline the creative challenges and expectations where known. The brief should always be as short and simple as possible so avoid long and complicated text.
Hopefully this gives you a good understanding of how to write a great product design brief. As designers we often get very poor briefs even from larger companies! It means that we have to invest more time and energy at the front end of a project just to figure out what the client wants.
Think of it like the foundations of a house – if the foundations are not well planned and solid, the house may collapse!
In a study of more than 100 start-ups, a technology venture capital organisation found that the number one cause of start-up failure was "no market need.” Nearly half of these start-ups spent years building a product before they found out that they were wrong in their most central assumption: that someone was interested in that product in the first place!
What they should have done was adopt a minimum viable product approach. "What is a minimum viable product” I hear you ask! Read on….
Traditionally, products are conceived and developed behind closed doors, based on research and a lot of assumptions about what the target audience want. This typically takes a long time and a lot of money to get to a production ready product. What happens if the product you develop is not what your customers want? You’ve spent time and money developing what you believe to be the next big thing and no one’s interested! Maybe the target audience has changed in the two years you took developing it. Maybe your research was not good enough and you’ve been developing something that no one ever wanted. Maybe you’re close with the product you’ve developed but something is not quite right and it just doesn’t gel with your customers.
Failure can be avoided by adopting a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach. It’s not right for every development but can be very effective when implemented on the right project.
The start of your project will look the same as the traditional approach. You’ll look at the market, the target users and the competition. You’ll develop a product brief and ideate concept designs to fulfil the needs. The big difference with the MVP approach is that you identify the core feature(s) of the new product and aim to develop a simplified version of your product as quickly and cost effectively as possible and get feedback on it from your target audience. The idea is to maximise the amount of validated learning for the lowest investment in the fewest steps. In its simplest form, a physical MVP is a short run of prototypes that you use for early trials with select customers.
For physical products, you may not have to develop a product at all initially. An explainer video showing how your new product works could be enough to get feedback. Perhaps it could just be a landing page for your new product on your website as this could give you early feedback on potential popularity. Many start-up’s use Crowd funding sites like Kickstarter to get their message across and to tweak their proposition to align with the feedback they receive.
Most importantly it is about listening to the feedback that this early product, explainer video or landing page yields and to feed that back into the design to improve the final product and make it a class leading one.
There are other ways to use an MVP approach if you are developing a service or online retail experience. If you take a look at VLADIMIR BLAGOJEVIC’s The-ultimate-guide-to-minimum-viable-products/ he explains all of the types of MVP.
That’s a very brief explanation of what an MVP is and why you should seriously consider adopting it for your next development. Why not contact a design consultancy and talk to them about it.
"We can’t justify spending that much developing our new product! We need to do this on a much smaller budget and we need it in production by Friday!”
I bet you’ve heard that before or maybe it’s even you who’s been saying it!
So you want to develop a new product but you're just not sure how to go about it or how much to invest. If you engage with a design consultancy, how will you manage the process and will you get value for money?
Let’s try to understand the value that good design can bring to your company so that you can confidently move forward with your next development.
Let’s first talk about good design versus bad design. Good design comes from having a clear brief with realistic time schedules and a creative design team working to an adequate budget. The creative team work collaboratively with key staff to create intuitive, cost effective products that meet the needs of the company and their customers.
Bad design comes from having an unprepared and unclear brief with an unrealistic time schedule and an inadequate budget! The lack of direction from an unclear brief coupled with unrealistic goals and timescales results in poorly designed products! Companies often try to engage creative teams far too late in the process, believing they can partially design the product themselves and use a design team to fix the problems at the end. This simply doesn't work.
Good design can be measured by looking at how its correct implementation has positively affected other companies. We all know and understand the benefits of good design when we think about Apple products yet we often dismiss the positive effect that good design can have when we think about less complex products. Just think about how good your new product could be if you approach it in the same manner as companies like Apple!
Here’s some interesting facts from a study carried out by the Design Council.
Numerous other studies have been conducted that show companies that are design-driven (using design as a key strategic advantage) were founded to be stronger on all financial measures. Businesses recognise that good design can have a powerful impact on competitive advantage and profitability. It can differentiate products and services and enhance their value – while poor design can threaten the survival of an organisation. Good design enhances brand value and helps to reduce complexity and cost.
So it’s clear that engaging with good design can be beneficial to your company. You should be considering adopting design as a core element within your business and looking at good design as a sound investment in your company’s future. Now go and think about that next product and do it right.