You have a great idea about a physical product and you are excited about realizing your idea. But maybe you are not skilled in that and don’t know how to bring idea to life. Especially if you are a hobbyist or inventor, you are eager to turn your ideas into reality. Then maybe you have questions: How to start? What files should I prepare? Where can I manufacture product prototype?
In this article, we will introduce the general process and some relative resources.
1. Prepare technical documents for your idea
If you want to bring idea to life, the first step is to prepare technical documents that describe your idea in a professional way. Usually you should try to get 3d model, 2d drawing or both. There are at least four methods to obtain these documents.
1.1 Download 3D models from an online marketplace
3D printer becomes a popular machine to help manufacture prototypes. STL files are the most common 3D printing file formats. There are tons of great sites that offer 3D models to download. Most are free while others offer their work – for a price. You can download STL models from these sites. For example, Cgtrader, Thingiverse, turbosquid, biomedical models, cults3d, Etsy, etc. You can subscribe to my Youtube channel too. There are some mechanical models.
1.2 Create 3D model from photos
You can create 3D printable objects and 3D models from images and photos nowadays. Photogrammetry is the process of taking multiple 2D images in 3D space and using 3D modeling software to combine that collection of images into a 3D model/product. The process involves taking overlapping photographs of an object, structure or space, and converting them into 2D or 3D digital models.
Photogrammetry is often used by surveyors, architects, engineers and contractors to create topographic maps, meshes, point clouds or drawings based on the real-world. After you take the photos, you can use some soft wares to create 3D models. Please read How to create 3D model from photos to get more information.
1.3 Get 3D models from 3D scanner
3D scanning is a technique used to capture the shape of an object using a 3D scanner. Any device that measures the physical world using lasers, lights or x-rays and generates dense point clouds or polygon meshes can be considered a 3D scanner. The result is a 3D file of the object which can be saved, edited and even 3D printed.
1.4 Prepare technical documents by yourself
You can prepare technical documents by yourself too. There are many software packages can be used.
If you want to create 3D models for engineering/ inventing, try Autodesk Inventor, Solidworks, AutoCAD, UG,PROE or Catia, etc. Usually you can use these software packages to create 2d drawing too.
If you want to make 3D models for movies, video games, and special effects, try 3DS Max, Maya, Zbrush, Cinema 4D, Blender, Rhino, DAZ 3D or Lightwave, etc.
If you are not skilled in these software packages, you can hire somebody to help you too. There are some freelancer platforms, such as Fiverr, Upwork, etc. Of course, you need to prepare some technical sketches in advance.
Please read <General 3D printing design rules>and <3D model design guidelines for 3d printing>.
After you get the technical documents, you can move to the next step. But before doing that, maybe you need some data process work on the models to ensure it will work well, especially if you use a 3d printer. And it is important to help you bring idea to life. If the data is not correct, you maybe get a bad prototype.
Designing for 3D printing implies to respect some design rules. It is necessary to keep in mind that the 3d models will not only be a virtual representation, but a support for the 3D printer to create a physical object.
Some files are ready to print right away. While some models need a bit more work before they’re ready to be 3D printed — whether they were created using CAD software, 3D Scanner or calculated from photographs through photogrammetry.
Read more : <Offline tools to repair STL files for 3d printing>.
2. Manufacture product prototype
Before manufacturing, you can create 3D PDF format file from your 3d model, and communicate with other people. After the 3D model or 2d drawing is ready, you can look for a supplier to help you make a prototype. Or you can manufacture product prototype on 3D printer, CNC Router or some other machines by yourself. Then you will get a physical object of your idea.
In this step, to reduce your cost, it is unnecessary to do post process on the parts, such as anodized hard coat, powder coating, brushing, black oxide, etc. Of course, it is best to do post process if you don’t mind the cost.
Manufacture product prototype by 3d printer
3D printing is a process of making 3D solid objects from a digital file. It is a form of additive manufacturing. In an additive process, an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the object is created. You need to use slicing software to produce G-Code, and the 3d printer will run according to the G-Code. And you can manufacture complex object with 3d printer, e.g. lattice structure, voronoi patterns, etc. A desktop 3d printer is a good help to bring your idea to life. If you need plan to buy a 3d printer, you can read <How to choose a desktop 3d printer>.
Manufacture product prototype by CNC machines
CNC machining is the opposite of additive manufacturing. CNC machines take a block of solid material (e.g. aluminum, steel, plastic or wood) and use sharp rotating tools or cutters to remove all parts that are not needed. CAM soft wares are used to general G-Code, then the G-Code is feed into control software to run the cnc machine. Some advantages of CNC machining include great dimensional accuracy as well as many compatible materials, including metals, wood, plastics, etc. In terms of tolerance, CNC machining is superior to most 3D printing processes.
Manufacture product prototype by other machines
Besides 3d printer and CNC router, you can also make prototypes on other machines, such as lather, milling machine, laser cutting machines, etc. Industrial machines are expensive, but there are some desktop/mini machines as well. If you have a small business or you are an individual, a mini machine may be a good help to bring your idea to life. And you can use these machines to manufacture hard materials, such as steel, glass, hard aluminum, and so on.
If you don’t want to manufacture prototypes by yourself, you can try to look for some suppliers to do that for you.
3. Optimize design and manufacture prototypes again
After you get the first prototype, you need to measure and test the product. In this way you will know if you need to optimize the design again.
If the first prototype is ok, you can manufacture more products; And if the first prototype need to optimize, maybe you need to manufacture the second, third or more prototypes.
4. Production in small batch
After you verify the product prototypes, you can manufacture the product in a small batch and then sell them. Try to gather information from the customers in order to improve the product in the future. In this step, post process is necessary, because it is a commercial product now.
Many of post processes could be completed in your workshop, and you can send the objects to a specialty shop to ensure you get clean, professional results too. Many methods require a degree of skill and experience, so it is best to let the supplier do that for you. And you just need to describe that in your technical documents.
5. Mass manufacturing-the last step to bring idea to life
After small batch production, you have got feedback from customers. Now you can try to optimize the product again or you can make a great amount of the product.