Iterative design — the cycle of prototyping, testing, analyzing, and refining a product — existed long before additive manufacturing, but it has never been as efficient and approachable as it is today with 3D printing.
Multiple iterations afford engineers the opportunity to collect more data.
Through fit, form, assembly, functional and destructive testing engineers can start with multiple options and confidently hone in on the single best fit. And the reality is that the best fit may be radically different from initial designs.
Iterative design demands flexibility throughout the process, and 3D printing grants the privilege. By drastically reducing both the cost and time required to develop prototypes, engineers can fit more versions of a part into the budget.
Iterative topology and shape optimization software used to cut 77% of the part mass while meeting strict force and torque requirements.
Adaptive design plays on 3DP’s intrinsic inclination for “mass customization.” Decades of mass production have left us living in a “one size fits none” world with imperfect products.
Look to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 project as a telling example: infamously expensive and repeatedly delayed, the F-35 JSF platform was designed to be configured into three variants: one each for the US Air Force, Navy, and Marines.
The effort actually led Lockheed down a long, costly road. Balancing the needs of each military branch proved quite difficult, forcing engineers to accept compromises in their designs.
Not surprisingly, Lockheed partnered with a European additive manufacturing OEM to develop updated flaperon spars for the F-35. Lockheed expects to save $100 million over the lifetime of the aircraft by replacing the older design made of forged titanium.
But both large and smaller companies stand to receive huge payback by using 3D printing technology for the iterative and adaptive phases of product development.
A small company that builds military and civilian UAVs replaced their traditional injection molding method for prototyping with 3D printers. On one project, the company saved more than $140,000 and shaved six months off their delivery time.
The newly afforded flexibility in part design, minus the associated cost of tooling, equals big savings.
The technology available today is capable of flight-ready parts, and there is a concerted effort to increase throughput and volume capabilities.