Better Time to Market with Rapid Manufacturing

We have an interesting Design Article contribution this week by Chris Nobles, an Industrial Designer working for HJC Design in the UK. He write today about Rapid Manufacturing and its impact on our product development process. A great read with lots of technical points, positives and negatives for our consideration should we need to specify such a process.
In the world of today’s manufacturing industry where competition is fierce, there is ever mounting pressure on suppliers to meet the rigorous demands which the market presents. Manufacturers undergo the challenge of supplying customised products with increasingly stringent lead times to meet the consumer’s needs, and with increasing competition from the global economy delays can result in business failure.

Production methods like injection moulding have an extent of design constraints associated with them. These include the difficulty of demoulding, expensive tooling costs, long lead times, varying economic production quantities and large limitations on exterior form. These traditional manufacturing processes are also commonly subtractive, where a mass material is removed in order to produce the required geometry. An alternative approach to manufacturing and one which is gaining increasing recognition within the industry is Rapid Manufacturing (RM). Rapid manufacturing has evolved from the Rapid Prototyping (RP) technologies, such as Stereolithography and Laser Sintering where layers are used to build up the product through varying additive processes. This in turn can uniquely introduce design freedom, as without the restriction of removing a product from a tool, designers can theoretically be free to design any complex geometry that RM machines can be capable of making. Further benefits such as zero costs, increased production efficiency and dramatically reduced lead times has meant that rapid manufacture is becoming an increasingly appealing technology for businesses.
Rapid manufacturing has so far been found to be most appropriate in industries where the component price is high and the production volume is low, but due to uncertain surface finish, application may be limited to parts being small and hidden from view.
The hearing aid industry was one of the first to apply RM technologies such as Selective Laser Sintering & Stereolithography for the mass production of personalised devises. There are also now innovative web based companies in the furniture market operating small to medium size quantity manufacture for items designed directly by their consumers – creating new niche markets and demands for products created by the individual user, for their personal consumption.
However the ability to manufacture whatever shape is required may not necessarily give the complete design freedom and eradication of Design For Manufacture that is often assumed. There may still be a necessity to consider other components within a product and indeed the entire design process and its stakeholders – hence the birth of “Design for Rapid Manufacture” or “DFRM”. Such elements involve the allowance for machine build tolerances, surface finish, and shrinkage after curing.
There is no doubting the scope and opportunities created through the implementation of rapid manufacture, but it has not yet been widely diffused into the industry with any great urgency. There seems to be a clear lack of education and public awareness of the benefits rapid manufacturing can offer. With just a few dozen RM materials commercially available today spread out over all classes of materials such as plastics, metals and ceramics, perhaps a different approach to utilising resins could be investigated. Instead of trying to replace metal and plastics, new applications of resins could be found to ideally suit the characteristics and properties that photopolymers have to offer, spawning a new demand for the technology in diverse market places, such as the production of organs and human tissue.
If you like to read more about Rapid Manufacture check out HJC Design’s White Paper.
HJC Design are a product design & development consultancy based in South Yorkshire UK. HJC have a strong reputation for combining striking aesthetics with innovative technology, helping rejuvenate brand identities for a wide range of clients from initial concept through to product manufacture. By forecasting future design trends, HJC guarantee their designs give an exceptional competitive advantage that is fully optimised for manufacture.
Their latest designs have created substantial publicity in American, European and Asian design press, for more information please study their case studies and images at

1 Comment
  • JIm Rait

    October 6, 2008 at 4:45 pm Reply

    People like Chris Nobles are critical to Designing for Excellence which is the key to thriving in a globalised world. Groups like this internal or external are a building block for quality, speed and innovation.. they underpin being able to act on my comments to These designers have a hard time!!

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