Along with the growing popularity of 3D printing technology and its gradual adaptation by industry, new terms appear defining areas in which 3D printers have started to make a significant difference. The first was “rapid prototyping”, i.e. creating prototypes using 3D printing, which significantly accelerated this process compared to traditional manufacturing techniques. When 3D printers began to be faster, more efficient, and the 3D printing process more automated, they began to produce final details, and this process began to be called “additive manufacturing”. The third, newest term, gaining more and more popularity in the world of modern industry is “bridge manufacturing”.
Zortrax – leading worldwide 3D printers manufacturer, is one of the main proponents of a new type of production using additive technology. According to the definition we can find on the company’s website, bridge manufacturing is a stage in the process of creating a new product between the stage of rapid prototyping which has just finished and the transition to mass production.
When creating a new product, a manufacturer can never really be completely sure how it will be received by customers and will the expenses incurred for its development be returned? The world’s largest companies deal with this problem by investing gigantic financial resources in market and consumer research. They also have at their disposal a huge marketing machine that can simply create the need for a new product in the world, or invent a problem that will solve it. It looks much worse in the case of small and medium business, and terrible in the case of beginner startups …
When launching the product on a massive scale, it is necessary to involve traditional manufacturing methods such as injection molding. This, in turn, is associated with large investments, among others in injection molds and the knowledge and responsibility associated with their design. Some companies cannot afford it – others may be afraid of the risk that the financial outlays will not be returned if the new product is not liked by the customers. In such situations, bridging production turns out to be the solution.
Bridge manufacturing is nothing more than low-volume production using 3D printers. Due to the specificity of 3D printing technologies, the costs of creating individual products are always lower than in the case of traditional, high-volume production methods. What’s more, 3D printers allow you to quickly and cost-effectively apply changes to projects (you do not need to create foundry molds, rearm machines, produce new tools, etc.) or produce the product in several variants right away.
Bridge manufacturing is a new production method that maximizes the potential of 3D printers in industry, while creating unique, multi-level added value for companies and enterprises.
The product launch cycle can therefore take a new, four-stage form:
STAGE 1 – rapid prototyping
A new product is invented and manufactured using 3D printers for internal testing.
STAGE 2 – bridge manufacturing
The company produces several dozen – several hundred products using 3D printers (FDM / FFF or SLA / DLP / UV LCD 3D printer farms) or dedicated low-volume production machines (SLS / MJF) and releases them to the market in a limited series , or presale.
STEP 3 – gathering information from the market
Depending on the scale of product demand and feedback from customers, the company either starts serial production or makes corrections to the product by repeating stages 2 and 3.
STAGE 4 – mass production
If the customer response to the new product is satisfactory, the company can successfully launch mass production using traditional manufacturing methods.
The above methodology of work, in addition to leveling the risk related to the potential failure of introducing a new product to the market, brings one additional advantage – by launching a new product on the market under STAGE 2, the company can earn money that will simply be financed by STAGE 4 in the world.