3D printing creates new options for product managers and designers beyond prototyping
The discussion coming up is about the state of 3D printing for prototyping and additive manufacturing. 3D printing is evolving quickly with the capability to print in a wide variety of materials. Also, post-processing capabilities, such as metal-plating plastic printed parts, are creating new opportunities for ergonomically correct parts. 3D printing provides significant efficiencies and competitive advantages.
I discussed the state of 3D printing and additive manufacturing with industry veteran John Bailotti. His background couples engineering, manufacturing, financial research, marketing, business development, and leadership, providing a valuable perspective in helping companies adopt additive manufacturing.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
- [7:31] Where does 3D printing fit into manufacturing approaches? 3D printing is an additive approach. It’s helpful to contrast this with subtractive approaches. As an analogy, think about ice cream. Hard serve ice cream is scooped out of a container. It is subtracted from the container, leaving a lot of ice cream (material) in the container. To get what you want, you remove what you want or don’t want. This is a subtractive process. Soft serve ice cream is different. You deposit into a cone or cup only what you want with very little to no waste. This is an additive process. Both processes are complementary and can be used together. For example, currently additive processes provide less accuracy for creating the desired form of an object and subtractive processes can be used to finish the object to precise specifications. Additive manufacturing uses less material, creates less waste, and may take less time.
- [10:51] Are there times when one approach must be used over the other? Some objects cannot be made with subtractive manufacturing or traditional modes. An example is creating the cylinder head of an engine that, instead of using solid metal, uses an internal lattice structure that decreases weight while providing strength.
- [12:41] What materials can be used for 3D printing? Standard filament printers use plastic-like spools of material containing ABS (like the black waste water pipes in a house) or PLA (which is made from corn). Many other materials can now be printed, including other forms of plastics, aluminum, titanium, stainless steel, and carbon fiber. While filament printers warm the material and ooze it together to create an object one thin slice at a time (like a glue gun), other 3D printers use a laser to fuse a powder form of the material to create an object. The technology is evolving quickly.
- [20:25] How does 3D printing help with prototyping when developing new products? It removes any need for tooling, allowing you to produce prototypes much faster and create variations quickly to test with customers. Also, plastic 3D manufactured parts can be finished in another process, such as plating them with metal. This means you can very quickly create an aesthetically and ergonomically correct part finished in the proper metal for testing. While 3D printing is valuable for prototyping, it can also be used for low-volume manufacturing of the final product. By not tooling for manufacturing, you save time and cost. The economics continue to change and more parts are becoming more economical to print than to use traditional tooling.
- [25:18] What does tooling mean? Imagine you were creating a case for a laptop computer. This would traditionally be injection molded, forcing warm pellets of material into a tool – a mold – resulting in the desired shape for the case. The mold is the tool. The tooling involved means the creation of the mold, which can be expensive and time consuming to produce. You need to be making enough cases to amortize the cost of the tooling across the number of products being created. Tooling requires a large initial investment.
- [27:46] What is needed to start using 3D printing? You start with a design idea that you can create in 3D CAD (computer aided design) software. Several CAD systems are available, including the online and free-to-use Tinkercad software. You don’t really need a 3D printer as you can outsource the actual printing to a company that specializes in printing. The CAD file is processed by another software application to create slices of the object that can be printed. Open source and commercially supported software options are available, but if you outsource the actual printing, the service provider would perform the slicing for you. This means you only need a CAD file and a service provider to get started.
- [30:59] Where is 3D printing headed for manufacturing? The goal is production manufacturing with the expectation that cost decreases each year while consistency remains the same. This is happening today across a wide variety of materials.
“The question isn’t who is going to let me; It’s who is going to stop me.” -Ayn Rand
I Wish I Had Known That Sooner
This is a new segment in The Everyday Innovator™ episodes called, I Wish I had Known that Sooner. The name is from what I most often hear when I train product managers — them telling me “I wish I had known that sooner.” This is another practical tip for product managers.
In a recent interview, number 149, with Dr. Mike Mitchell from the Center for Creative leadership, we learned about the 85% gap. When CCL surveys leaders, 98% say innovation is important to them. When the same leaders are asked if their organization is effective at innovation, only 14% say they are. With rounding, Mike called this the 85% gap. Other research studies share similar results, with CEOs saying innovation is very important to the future of the organization but actual effectiveness with innovation is lacking.
Why does this occur? One reason is the culture of the organization. Most established organizations actively limit change — the are optimized for existing operations and perhaps the continuous improvement in those operations. They rebel against change, which by necessity is what innovation requires.
In my IDEA Framework, which I use to train product managers who want to become product masters, I start with an examination of culture and strategy. In the Innovation 1000 Report, examining the culture of 1000 innovative companies, the most important element of culture is “Strong identification with the customer and an overall orientation toward the customer experience.”
So, how to begin to change the culture of your organization to effectively innovate and develop new products? Begin with the customer. Talk with your colleagues about what customers want and expect and how the current product or products are meeting or missing customers’ expectations.
When you encounter resistance towards a product idea you have, ask questions about the existing customer experience. Contrast how a current product makes a customer feel versus how an improved version or new product could make them feel and the value it could provide.
When you and your colleagues begin discussions about what is best for the customer, the culture will quickly change and start supporting innovation and new product development.
To learn more about this and other practices that equip product managers and innovators to excel in their careers using the IDEA Framework, click here.
I hope you enjoyed this new “I wish I had known that sooner” segment for product managers and innovators.
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.