When it comes to 3D printing, we can thank the media for creating misleading impressions on just what 3d printing is, what it can really do and whether you need it. This video is a segment we pulled from our Inventor Mentor series, but is helpful to anyone considering 3d printing (that is anyone who hasn’t used 3d printing yet).

Please feel free to send in your 3d printing or invention help questions.

Video Transcript:

Hi there, Annette Kalbhenn here again, a co-creator of the Inventor’s Action Program, or as I have been calling it lately Your Invention Mentor in a Binder, and also the Sales Manager for 3D Prototype Design, a 3D printing service bureau.

I thought I would start this first segment after my intro segment on 3D printing since I know a great deal about it. There are going to be several installments that talk about 3D printing in addition to other questions and insights on the invention process. But I thought, you know what, given that I have 14 years in this business of experience, this is a great place to start.

So if you have an idea for an invention and you’re thinking of 3D printing, here are the absolute basics you need to know.

1) So first of all, in order to get a price, you need a CAD file. So this is a proper 3D drawing that’s rendered on the computer and it has all three dimensions of the part. So it’s not just a drawing that looks three dimensional on your screen, it physically has to be three dimensionally drawn, so that when the printer prints it, it knows how to print it in 3D. Otherwise, you’re just printing a copy, like a photocopy.

So in order to have a CAD file done, I would recommend that you look for a mechanical engineer or mechanical designer. These are people who have been trained and studied how to do the drawings, how to make them so that they will work from a manufacturing standpoint, a prototyping standpoint, and they do have a fair amount of expertise and knowledge. Even if they’re a student, it will be better than just trying to give it a go on your own.

Doing a CAD file drawing is not like creating a brochure for yourself. We have not had any success to date with any files that have been sent to us from CAD software programs that I like to call iCAD. So anything that’s free, we haven’t had work yet. Anything that’s like $49 for the software, we still have not had work yet. It doesn’t means that it doesn’t work, it’s just that we haven’t had any files that have been submitted to us in a usable format.

So that’s one thing that you need to do. You need to get a CAD file.

2) Two, you do not want to ask, “Well, it’s about the size of a mug, how much would that be?” Because that, honestly, is not going to help you.

It’s going to depend on the geometry:

  • How much space it’s taking up?
  • Is it really the size of a mug?
  • How big is a mug? Is it this big?
  • Is it this big?
  • Are you building it in seven pieces and then when it’s assembled, it’s going to look like a mug?

There’s a lot of variables that can really make the difference on your pricing.

3) Third to that, which is almost like a 2.1, pricing for a prototype. If you’re working on an invention and you’re trying to figure out how much a prototype is going to cost because you’re trying to decide if this is something that you can afford to do for your invention, stop right there. Because a prototype, a 3D printed part, is going to be one of the lowest expenses that you’re going to have in invention development process unless, of course, you’re doing a giant thing, something that’s very large, you’re doing a car, some kind of enormous piece of electronics or something like that.

The CAD drawings will likely be more than the prototype. Patenting will be more than your prototype. Marketing, all of the other things you’re going to be investing in are most likely going to be more expensive than the prototype. So focusing on how much will the prototype cost, “Is this something I should go ahead with?” that’s not where you should be starting.

4) Another thing that you should know, that would be, I think, what are we up to? Four? Because we had 2, 2.1 which was 3, and now 4.

3D printing only creates components that are hard materials right now anyway, so resin-based materials, plastics, rubber-like, that kind of thing. So it’s not the replicator on Star Trek. It doesn’t manifest a fully functional electronic device with all the working components, the plastic screen on the front, the lights that flash, that kind of thing.

So it’s going to give you… Think of a drill, let’s say. It’s going to give you the hard shell exterior. So you’d give us the CAD file, we’d build the shell exterior, then you would take it to somebody else, and they would put the other components in it or you would put the other components in.

So building your prototype with 3D printing, the 3D printing may just be one element of the whole printing process. So you have to get a better understanding of what 3D printing really is. It’s not the Holy Grail of everything. It’s super cool. It can do some really amazing things, but it may not actually even be something that you need.

5) Lastly to that point, you may not need a prototype right now. So many people start with their idea for an invention thinking, “I need to patent this and I need the prototype.” But that’s not actually the case. Very, very rarely should you start with a patent, prototyping is rarely your starting point either.

So those are the basics of 3D printing that I have to share with you today. I will definitely be sharing way more with you, but I don’t want to overload it. I promised I’m going to try and keep these around two-minute segments. So thanks so much. I appreciate you watching. Again, please send me your questions, and I’ll do what I can to answer them for you. Thanks so much.