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Here on the GrabCAD blog, you’ve read about many of the amazing things organizations are doing with 3D printing: medical advances, artistic accomplishments, manufacturing achievements. But in this blog post, I’d like to take you back, in some sense, to one of the earliest uses of 3D printing – helping engineers produce prototypes faster than ever to meet unreasonable marketing requirements.

I run sales and marketing at Tive, a startup helping companies take some of the surprises out of their supply chains. We do this with a cellular-connected tracker (hardware device) and a cloud-based software platform. With our solution, companies get real-time knowledge of their goods in transit and can avoid delays and damage. If you’d like to learn more about Tive, you can visit our website at www.tive.co. But the important point is that we’re a fast-moving startup in the process of designing our next-generation tracker.

Having the ability to run off a quick prototype on a 3D printer can really save your bacon.

We had committed to attend a conference September 6, and I wanted to bring brochures to handout. But our current brochures showed our old tracker, not the one we’re releasing in October. The new tracker looks fairly different (though the internals are similar), and I wanted to make sure prospects saw our future, not our past. To make things a little more complicated, I needed a live photo of a person (or at least a hand) holding the tracker, to show scale. Without a human element it’s very hard to judge how large our device is. So I needed a live photo, not a rendering.

Our initial plan was to make a “looks like” prototype from acrylic, machine it, then paint it our distinctive blue. But this process was going to take more than a week, and I needed to get a photo in the next day or two so I could print brochures in time. I mentioned this problem to a friend at another company that happened to have a number of 3D printers and he offered to let me print a prototype on their Stratasys PolyJet printer. In addition to being fast, this process had the advantage of being able to produce a full-color prototype, which meant there was no need for painting.  

I sent over the CAD file and our color hex code (using GrabCAD Workbench, by the way), and the next day he dropped off a 3D printed model. He used GrabCAD Print on the Stratasys J750.  It was as simple as importing the model from Workbench into GrabCAD Print and clicking print. There isn’t a lot to change once the software automatically positions the part on the tray.

After we had the part, we immediately shot photos, put them in the brochure and sent it to the printer. Two days later, I had the brochures just before the start of the Labor Day weekend. On Tuesday after Labor Day, I went off to the event, made new friends, and handed out our brochure. Success!

I’ve known about 3D printing for quite a while (I actually used to work at GrabCAD years ago), but this was really the first time the process saved my bacon. Without a rapid, full-color manufacturing process I would have had to use images that just didn’t meet my marketing standards. So, to all of you hardware marketing people out there, when you find yourself in a time crunch trying to get engineering to churn out that last prototype – think about 3D printing!

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