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Have you ever gotten frustrated trying to cut frozen butter? That problem may be in the past, thanks to a new high-tech heated butter knife made possible by 3-D printing prototyping, reports The EasiChef kitchen utensil charges like a smartphone and heats up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit in five seconds, enabling you to easily spread cold butter or to scoop cold ice cream by changing attachments. The manufacturers of EasiChef, startup AGI Solutions, produced their prototype by sharing their initial CAD design with rapid prototyping firm Proto Labs, which used 3-D printing to create a plastic proof-of-concept model. It was while working on improving the prototype’s ergonomic design that the inventors realized the heated butter knife could double as an ice cream scoop.

For AGI Solutions, 3-D printing represents an easier way to slice butter, but for other inventors and manufacturers seeking an efficient, affordable way to build a prototype, 3-D printing may be the best thing since sliced bread. Here’s a look at three ways that 3-D printing has helped revolutionize the way prototyping is done.

Making Inventing More Affordable

Cutting prototyping costs has been the biggest boon brought about by 3-D printing. Using traditional subtractive processes such as injection molding, which cuts away material from a mold shape, can cost $10,000 to $100,000 or more to create a prototype. The additive process used by 3-D printing slashes this cost by only using as much material as required to create the mold, avoiding costs


generated by waste.

The resulting cost savings can be considerable. Three-dimensional printing provider Stratasys has created a procedure for rapid prototyping eyeglass frames that can cut costs by 40 percent for high-volume customers. Volvo has been able to cut prototyping costs for construction hauler parts by 92 percent using 3-D printing.

Expanding Design Possibilities

Another advantage 3-D printing has brought prototyping is expanding the range of designs that are possible. Because 3-D printing works from a digital blueprint, and because 3-D printers can use unique synthetic materials, the technology allows virtually any shape that can be visualized to be produced. This includes designs that can be produced more efficiently than traditional techniques would allow, as well as designs that could not be produced at all through conventional methods.

For example, 3-D printing can be used to create interlocking parts in one step without requiring assembly, such as making hinges, gear bearings and ball joints from the same machine and using the same material, says Sculpteo. Three-dimensional printing can also be used to print o-rings in over 8,000 custom sizes out of materials such as Viton, Nitrile and EPDM.


Accelerating the Prototyping Cycle

Three-dimensional printing has also empowered inventors and manufacturers to complete the prototyping cycle faster than previously possible. Because 3-D printing adds material in layers instead of subtracting it, it eliminates the time wasted from using excess material, speeding up the production process. In addition, 3-D printer manufacturers have been able to further accelerate the production process through innovations such as reducing vibrations that limit printer speed.

For instance, by using Stratasys 3-D printers, rapid prototyping firm Skorpion Engineering has been able to produce automotive prototypes 50 percent faster than traditional clay modeling, Disruptive Magazine reports. The latest 3-D printing breakthroughs deliver even faster results. Carbon 3-D’s innovative CLIP technology can print objects in 6.6 minutes that would normally take three hours using normal 3-D printing methods. MIT engineers have developed a 3-D printer that can print ten times faster than current printers, enabling it to produce a Lego-sized brick in a few minutes than would normally have taken an hour.

Three-dimensional printing has made prototyping cheaper, opened up new design possibilities and accelerated the prototyping cycle. By deploying 3-D printing, companies such as AGI Solutions are not only slicing butter more easily, they’re also slicing time and dollars off the prototyping process and cutting themselves a bigger slice of profits in the process.

Author: Andy Quayle

Andy was born in the Isle of Man and currently lives in Pittsburgh.
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