IoT enables us to connect everything, thus changing the way we live and perform our daily activities. 3D Printing technology makes it possible for everyone to turn their imaginations into real products. What a great combination they are to create an innovative world full of excitement?
Both the technologies are already making a huge impact on almost every industry. From transportation to healthcare, from smart homes to smart cities, IoT is upgrading the quality of our life everywhere. These networks of connected devices communicate with the external environment with the help of embedded technology and internet. 3D Printing is changing the way things are being produced. From a customized capsule to a fuel injection system for a Jet engine, everything can be 3D Printed. Any 3D Design can be turned into a physical object with the help of a 3D Printer which builds up components by depositing successive layers of raw materials.
IoT is giving rise to a world where everything would be traceable and trackable. Let us understand how 3D Printing can accelerate the growth of IoT Industry. In this article I will discuss three ways any IoT startup can bring 3D Printing to use:
1. Rapid Prototyping
3D Printing gives you the freedom to test your concepts fast. It allows you visualize and interact with your creation at a very low cost. After the intelligence of your IoT device has been tested, to make it market ready you will need a body “Case” for it. Design communicates a lot about your product and you have the very right to make it awesome. With 3D Printing several design iterations of the case can be made easily before you finalize on the final look of the product.
2. Small Batch Testing
3D Printing allows ideas to develop faster than ever, thus reducing the time to market. The technology shrinks in the manufacturing lead time as well as saves you from the constraint of minimum volume requirement for production. You can go to the market with a limited number of products in hand, it can be 100 products, and it can be 10. This gives you the time to capture the customer’s response, feedback and a lot many things before you invest large and stock up thousands of devices.
3. Small Run Production
Customization is the need of the hour. If you are making IoT devices and your customers want the cases to be personalized to suit their requirements, 3D Printing would be a great option. Also, if you keep updating your device frequently with minor changes, adopting traditional manufacturing to get volume manufactured would not be a great thought. It would require you to get the mold done and then the device. Going by this method will definitely reduce your per unit cost. However, it brings along its own challenges: large Initial investment, storage and maintenance cost, and higher production time. The smarter way would be to go by sustainable production option that is 3D Printing. You can go for a small run production initially, sell your product and concept, generate the investment required for traditional manufacturing and then move into it.
So, how do the IoT companies utilize the benefits of 3D printing? Do they need to own the 3D Printers or learn the 3D Printing techniques? Not at all, I would say that outsourcing manufacturing is always a smart move. There are 3D Printing experts who can do this for you. The only thing you would need is a 3D Design of the case or the concept/drawing of the case that you would like to make.
I have some suggestions for materials that you can use for the enclosure. If your case is a simple one and you want to provide a lot of color options to your customers, then you should go for PLA/ABS. PLA can withstand a temperature of 90° C and its melting temperature is 180° C. The glass transition temperature of ABS is 105° C. PLA/ABS material are suitable for general purpose prototypes/parts. If your design is complex and has a lot of details, then using Nylon is good. Nylon is hard plastic (polymer) and its melting temperature is 270° C. It is suitable for high resolution functional prototypes/parts.
3D Printed Electronics
Let me now tell you about a 3D Printing innovation that is all set to print both the embedded circuit and the thermoplastic body together.
Voxel8, a 3D Printer that has been called as “The Internet of Everything” by the Wired Magazine is allowing plastic as well as conducive ink to blend with each other. Though right now the raw materials supported by the 3D Printer are only standard PLA plastic and the silver conductive ink, it is enough to give us an impression of the way electronic devices will be made in the near future.
Experimentation is the key to innovation and 3D Printing fuels it by speeding up the development cycle and allowing you to make even one product at a time at an affordable time and cost. Utilize this technology; keep innovating to make the world smarter than ever.