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For low stress and low impact applications, 3D printing in plastic is great for final working objects. However, it excels as a cost effective tool when designing parts for mass production or output in more robust (expensive) materials. The comparatively low prototyping costs of desktop 3D printing gives industrial designers the freedom to think creatively and experiment with their designs – and it can prevent costly mistakes be exposing design issues before committing to a large scale run.

While working on a new bridge design for his beautiful line of electric basses, Sheldon over at Dingwall Guitars came to us with a project. He had his design in place but before committing to the cost of tooling up and producing the final items in metal, he wanted a prototype to ensure that the parts engaged properly with other existing components. We ran the first batch and he test fitted them. Noticing that a 3mm tweak was needed along one of the dimensions, he updated the file and we ran a second batch. Success. After seeing the fit and knowing that the components will function as expected, he can confidently send this design off to be mass produced.

Because a fuse deposition modeling (FDM) printer like a MakerBot Replicator prints from the bottom up, you always need some material below the print head on which to deposit the next layer of plastic. When a part contains overhangs (areas that are suspended in mid-air), sacrificial support material is printed in the airspace below so the part has something to rest on. Shown in grey here, this low density material is easily removed from the final piece after printing. Watch a real-time simulation of one saddle being printed. Right at the end, you can see that a portion of the part gets printed like an island on top of the support material and then the printer bridges over to connect that little piece to the main body. Simulations like this are the last step before committing to the final physical output. You can save yourself a lot of material waste by spotting potential printing failures at this stage.

5-up on the print bed:


A printed prototype fitted with existing hardware. Run at .3mm layer height at 100% infill. Good enough for rock n roll.


See you next time.