Iteration of 3D printing: Design, print, test, and repeat

3D printing is a revolutionary technology that can spur innovation.

Technology has advanced so much that it’s now possible to design and print parts that are suitable for end use. Previously, 3D printing was primarily used for prototyping parts that were eventually produced with traditional methods and materials. New materials are being introduced almost every day. Many of them are functional and durable.

The new materials can be used in many industries, including automotive, food service, aerospace, and medical devices. They can also be used for engineering and energy.

Iteration is the best way to use 3D printing for parts that must be functional. By iteration, we mean staying true to the technology’s original purpose while maximizing its new facets.

This is the step-by-step process for creating a replacement OEM component:

1. Reverse engineering and file design.

You need to create a digital file before you can print anything. In some cases, you can scan the part and 3D-print it, but in many cases, you will have to reverse-engineer it. Measure the part accurately to ensure that the fit is correct, and attach the fittings properly. This produces a 3D printable STL (Structured Text Language) file.

2. Prototyping in a non-functional “test” material.

You can use a non-functional material such as PLA to ensure the accuracy of the geometry. It is accurate enough to produce even thin, hollow, or small parts. However, PLA might not be suitable for the final product because the part needs to be durable, tolerant to specific fluids, strong and rigid, or even flexible.

3. Functional material testing.

After you have a finalized design, you may want to test it by printing with different materials. These can be resins that mimic injection molding plastics like polypropylene or thermoplastic elastomer.

4. Final design updates.

Generally, you need not do the final edits and tweaks before testing, as you might not know the degree of flexibility each material would provide. This is a crucial step for quality control because a few final modifications are usually needed before production.

5. Production.

Once you have a 3D digital model and have chosen a material, you can quickly produce a small-volume production of the part. This saves you a lot of time when compared with outsourcing to an overseas company, which would have a production minimum that is much higher than you need. You can also have additional orders printed in just a few short days.


Tropic 3D can help you with any questions you have about all or any of these steps. Take your very first step and contact us.

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