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3D Printing: A Growing Opportunity for Low Volume Production

I had the opportunity to sit on the Kairos Society’s 5th Annual Global Summit panel on 3D printing alongside Stratasys and GE. In the audience were an incredible group of young entrepreneurs.  During the course of the panel, several interesting opportunities emerged which relate directly to our business at Dragon Innovation.

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One such opportunity is the ability to build in small batches.

With Crowdfunding taking off, many of our clients need to build quantities in the 2k–5k range.  Finding a manufacturing solution at these volumes can be challenging to say the least. In a nutshell, it is more than you want to build on your dining room table and less than most contract manufacturers' minimum quantity requirements.

3D Printing is an excellent solution for the following reasons:

  • Does not require injection tooling, saving >$20k and up to 8 weeks lead-time.
  • Provides the ability to build a few units, test, update the design and repeat to validate the feature set and market.  Anybody who has built injection tooling knows that changes are not smiled upon.
  • Piece cost scales linearly with volume, as it is not necessary to amortize the cost of tooling into the quantity of parts.
  • Parts can often be printed nearby the entrepreneur, allowing for high bandwidth communications and shortened lead-times.

The challenges that can arise from 3D printing include:

  • Creating robust isotropic components that share the same functional characteristics of injection molded parts.
  • Acceptable surface finish.
  • Part-to-part consistency and quality assurance.
  • Longer times to print than mold.

Looking to the future, as the 3D technologies continue to evolve in improved functional performance and lower cost, there are many exciting possibilities for 3D printed parts that are not possible with injection molding:

  • Continuously variable material properties, such as material and durometer.
  • Undercuts:  Ability to create non-injectable or machinable geometry.
  • 3D printed injection-molding tools that capture the speed of 3D printing and the high volume cost advantages of injection.  This will require fine resolution build layers so that the printed tools do not need to be touched with CNC to achieve the desired surface finish.

We are very excited about the future, and are thrilled to work with companies like MakerBot who have revolutionized cost-effective 3D printing.

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