3D printing and the team skills

3D printing and the digital development processes will change the team dynamics and establish new ways to work. In this article I will discuss some of the emerging patterns.

  1. Collaboration. Collaborative design proposes that products are designed together with the users. Collaborative product or service development is not new concept. The idea is in the heart of established practises, such as user centered design, usability engineering and service design. 3D printing is based on the affordance that products can be designed and manufactured faster with personalized features. It makes sense to consider new kinds of collaborative teams where customers, end users and the engineering team work together to exploit the affordances and user input in full. When the design and manufacturing cycles are fast and flexible there is possibility to
    1. Create more design iterations.
    2. Make more product prototypes and variations without major cost or time impact.
    3. Develop the product with users and customers in fast development cycles.
  2. Prototyping. ”Prototypes are super expensive”. This is not (always) true with 3D printing. The step from CAD file to first concrete product is short. Making changes in the prototype or simulation is far less expensive than making changes in the final product. With 3D printed prototypes, it is often possible to make the first versions almost with zero cost using inexpensive FDM technology, before proceeding to the actual implementation and materials, such as titanium. The teams need to learn to apply active prototyping and maximise the support and experiences the prototypes can provide for design and customers. There is also the marketing aspect for using and showing the prototypes already in the early phases of the design process.
  3. Role of purchasing. All larger manufacturing companies have dedicated teams for purchasing stuff needed for the main business, such as components and materials. As purchasing manager, what do you buy when you buy 3D printed components or digital spare parts? The question is often about fast on-demand manufacturing, with customer specific twists in the products. The purchasing teams need to develop skills to play with additive manufacturing platforms and services, rather than buying, lets say 10 000 units of component X. Or is there a fast shortcut between product development teams and 3D printing services? Accordingly, 3D printing services need to figure out what are the new processes and connections needed to serve the big customers.
  4. New design processes. Sustainability, circular economy, recycling, on-demand parts and other emerging phenomena ask for better design and manufacturing processes, with new requirements coming from the society and customers. For example, how do you:
    1. Design for 3D printable spare parts (already in the original product)
    2. Design for recycling
    3. Design for personalization

The concept of product design need to raise to the new level, where designer solves also the problems and needs that will come at the end of the product lifecycle. This is rarely handled in contemporary product development.

Conclusion

3D printing is not only about technology, processes and materials. It is also about the new hard and soft skills and behaviours needed in teams. Collaborative product development or the idea of super active prototyping are competences that need to be exercised, piloted and tried out.

What do you think?

Pekka Ketola, CEO 3DStep Oy

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