Before you embark on 3D technology, don’t get carried away and spend lots of money on high tech design files when a simple drawing will do. A good designer should be able to create a decent design from the sketch on the back of an envelope, which is usually better than a badly put together CAD package.
If you don’t fully understand the technology, don’t be put off by it, as there are people out there that do. Find someone who has that expertise, that’s familiar with many common design software tools, and make use of their expert knowledge.
The designer is an integral part of your product development cycle, so it’s also worth finding one that shares your passion and enthusiasm for your idea. Make sure you feel comfortable with them, and them with you. Speak to a number of designers before you commit to one.
Be aware of other similar products on the market before you invest hundreds of pounds developing your product. Remember your idea must be better in some way if it is to succeed. Learn from the shortcomings of other products in order to make yours the best on the market.
Protecting your idea or design is crucial. It’s great having a ground breaking idea, until someone steals it and makes it first. Remember your ideas are your intellectual property (IP), so it’s worth speaking to a specialist legal advisor about ways in which you can best protect your ideas from copycats.
3D technology comes in many forms, not just printed products. Have you ever considered creating a virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) version of your idea before you embark on the printed version? Many businesses find that VR and AR are a cost-effective way to showcase their products to potential stakeholders before they commit to the ‘real’ thing.
VR and AR can be distributed electronically enabling investors and clients worldwide to visualise your product in an environment that simulates how it would look in real time. People can feedback quicker and modifications can be made to suit markets or individuals.
They also make great promotional tools for launching new products. Our design team at the 3M BIC has created visualisations of cars for launch events - when the cars hadn’t even been built yet; and developed walk-throughs of historic buildings, enabling the user to experience the building back in its heyday, exploring rooms and learning more about the history of the building.
Most 3D design files can be converted into a printable format using Additive Manufacture (AM) to create a real prototype, either in hard or soft plastics, in colour, and more recently in metals such as stainless steel, aluminium or titanium. Investors and potential clients can look, touch and feel the product. It also allows you to take on their comments and incorporate them. 3D files can easily be modified and a prototype printed for as little as £100.
3D technology is evolving and the possibilities are endless. It’s a cost-effective way to develop or showcase new products, but can also be used to improve and advance existing products, to help correct any inefficiencies and maximise performance. Businesses large and small need to exploit 3D technology to benefit from its potential if they want to continue to innovate and compete in their markets.
Dr Michael Wilson is technology director at the 3M Buckley Innovation Centre (3M BIC) in Huddersfield, that provides access to technology for businesses via its Innovation Avenue.
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