How useful is an Ultimaker S5 with material station?
Pretty damn good! It allows us to print in different materials with different support material if required with little or no set up. We run two glass build plates so as soon as one print finishes, we remove the model and build plate, replace with a clean one and it's ready for someone else to use right away. We even use it remotely from home by connecting remotely with our office computers and sending prints direct to the printer.
3D printing is not perfect and there are always issues. For a larger more complex print we always ensure someone is on hand to check that all is well for the first hour or so just in case there is a problem. We had to replace the print head once after a catastrophic disaster where a large complex build lost adhesion to the build plate quite early on and ended up turning the print head into a giant ball of plastic! Lesson learnt!
Some material are not possible to run through the material station. We have failed to reliably print in TPU as the route from spool to print head is too torturous for the soft material and it gets stuck! Polyprop is currently working reliably but we have similar issues.
Ultimately, the purpose of the Ultimaker S5 was to give us an easy to use, reliable print solution in house to allow us to print development ideas as and when we need them. We rarely use it to print customer facing prototypes unless they are for functional demonstration only. The Ultimaker S5 has turned out to be a valuable addition to the development team and we could not continue without it. We still have much to learn about using it and would like to explore interesting materials as well as innovative ways to use it.
Much of what we buy is manufactured abroad, predominantly in China. This is usually cost driven. If it is cheaper to manufacture offshore, then would it not be cheaper to design and develop your product where it is going to be manufactured? Well, yes; potential vendors will offer design at a reduced rate or for free as part of the manufacturing contract. A tempting win for both sides? Actually, this approach is fraught with risk. Here’s why:
The design of your product could be compromised. Offshoring risks communication problems; no common language and mismatched time zones are barriers to clear and quick exchange of information. A lack of understanding of your market, customer and associated regulatory requirements could also impact your product resulting in sales and profits that never reach their full potential.
Where design is included as part of manufacture then the development of your product becomes an overhead to be minimised. Less value is attached to the importance of spending the time to get it right for the long-term success. If the design resource is hidden behind a manufacturer, then quality and track record are difficult to determine and there may be no alternatives on offer.
There is also the concern that your design data gets into the wrong hands with a copy of your product appearing shortly after your product is launched. Even with intellectual property protection in place, any dispute will take time and money to resolve and will come with inherent communication problems.
So, there are downsides to overseas product development but what about UK-based product design? To start with the UK has a world-class creative sector. It delivers inherent strategic and commercial benefits leading to business growth. This is possible because the UK is at the forefront of design education. This feeds into a large, diverse and effective product design sector. There will be a match for your product development needs.
UK design works in the global marketplace so if you market is in the UK, EU or worldwide then there will be the experience to deliver the right product. UK or overseas manufacture can be managed effectively with reliable and trusted vendors recommended, problems anticipated and avoided.
There are more basic advantages: You and your design company share the same language and working hours, so communication is easy and responsive. Meetings are easy to arrange and there are no cultural misunderstandings.
Product design is going to be a small proportion of the total cost to market but investing in UK design to get it right dramatically reduces the risk and expense of developing and manufacturing the wrong product. UK design is ideally placed to deliver the right product for your market.
I saw a post recently on a job site. "What is the role of a product designer? I find myself intrigued to uncover what the role entails. Is it design? Is it management? Is it research? Does everyone define the role in the same manner? Anyone have thoughts on this?” The first answer back was "It’s a bit of everything”
In Wikipedia’s entry for product design it says "Due to the absence of a consensually accepted definition that reflects the breadth of the topic sufficiently, two discrete, yet interdependent, definitions are needed: one that explicitly defines product design in reference to the artefact, the other that defines the product design process in relation to this artefact.”
So it’s a difficult discipline to define then! Let’s have a go at defining it here in 2021.
Product design is broadly speaking the effective generation and development of ideas through a process that leads to new products. But it’s more than this. It is in fact a mixture of many varied disciplines some of which are listed below.
Product design is about all of these aspects. The role of design in modern business is more important than ever in our unpredictable and ever changing world. Product design is about exploring new ideas; about making your product stand out from the sea of alternatives; about making users love the product and everything it stands for, and about making your company love its own products because they’re cost effective to build and make profit!
There is so much that can be written about the role of product design, but hopefully this gives you an insight into some of the key elements. Go and talk to a design professional today, and see what they can do for your business.