The 3D Printing Eleven (3): Complexity is Free

The 3D Printing Eleven (3): Complexity is Free



When using 3D printing technologies, manufacturing complexity is free. The rule in traditional manufacturing is that the more complicated an object’s shape is, the higher the manufacturing costs are. On a 3D printer, the cost for a complex design are about the same as for a simple one. Fabricating a complicated shape does not require more time or cost than let’s say printing a simple shape, like a cube. This freedom in complexity however will disrupt traditional pricing models and finally change how the cost of manufacturing products are calculated.

Unparalleled Design Freedom

To take full benefit of the renewed manufacturing opportunities as offered by 3D printing, designers of lighting products along with specifiers such as lighting designers and architects need to start thinking even more “out-of-the-box” and start rediscovering the new ‘boundaries of manufacturing’. Since no tooling is involved anymore, the constraints as set by conventional product toolings are gone. Freeform products and high complexity components (e.g. multi-faceted) can now be designed and manufactured at zero extra cost. Since software tools are also getting stronger, more versatile and hands-on, even the designer doesn’t need to bring much extra skills, or to spent his valued time on additional design efforts.

“3D printing: rediscovering the boundaries of design and manufacturing technologies”

Creating Winners and Losers

When people say “complexity is free” they’re implicitly recognizing that 3D printing technology can be incredibly versatile. Because it generally produces objects “layer-by-layer,” or even more precise by depositing tiny “droplets-on-demand”, it can fabricate products that simply cannot be produced in another way. This critical attribute could transform the way some lighting manufacturers operate, and it may force others into obsolescence. Consider that many lighting products are currently assembled out of multiple subcomponents. Mostly, this is because of constraints that are imposed by the way these products are designed and manufactured. For example, using traditional methods to machine complex internal structures requires that those internal structures are generally accessible to machine tools and then assembled into a larger component. Now, multi-materials can be brought together in one single print run.

21st Century Design Engineering

Today, engineers are using 3D CAD software, they are now designing their parts on a computer screen. After the design process, they simulate the functionality, and if it seems to work fine, they transmit it to a 3D printer. The printer is filled with a metal powder and a laser device that literally “builds” the piece out of the metal powder to the exact specifications. Accordingly, you can test it and, when it is working well, you have your new part in hands, in as fast as one day. To be honest, some complex parts may require some more time for design and post-processing, and also the design software is not preserved from failures, but this is how it will work in the near future. That’s what we mean when we say “complexity is free”.

Shorter Cycle Times

With 3D printing, the product development cycle’s become amazingly shortened now: in only a couple of days you can have a visual concept available, the product design in place and the fabrication done. After that, you have it available for evaluation and testing whether it is working or not. If not, you can easily iterate the product and reprint, or just go ahead and within a week you have it produced. Apart from significant cost savings, digital manufacturing is bringing us both better performance and increased speed. In the past, performance worked against speed: the more tests you implemented to get an optimal product performance, the more time it took. When complexity is free, the full design – test – iterate – manufacture process is being reduced from months to weeks or, if needed, even days.

Soon, Volume 4 of the 3D Printing Eleven for the Lighting Industry” will be published. We’ll see how easy different iterations can be made on a product design by using a digital design and manufacturing process. Please make sure you stay tuned!