At Red Dot, 3D Printing Speeds Product Development

With 3D printing, it took just 24 hours to produce a working prototype of this blower wheel.

With 3D printing, it took just 24 hours to produce a working prototype of this blower wheel.

Red Dot has 100,000 square feet of manufacturing space at our Seattle headquarters, but one of the most exciting pieces of production equipment is about the size of a bookcase.

It’s a Stratasys Fortus 400mc 3D printer, a machine that turns 3D engineering drawings into working prototypes made of production-grade plastic. Red Dot’s investment has reduced product development time and costs.

“We use the machine for prototyping molded plastic components,” says Gary Hansen, Red Dot vice president. “Overnight, it can deliver a functional part with nearly same strength and physical properties as the final product, one we can test and put in the field.”

Tangible Savings

One example is a blower-motor wheel, a complex design that would require 12 weeks and thousands of dollars to create a prototype.

“Now we can design a wheel and be holding it in our hands within 24 hours, at a cost of a few hundred dollars for materials,” Gary says. “Better still, we can improve the design quickly and cost-effectively.”

Previously, Red Dot outsourced 3D printing, a process that can take days or weeks. “We were spending well over $100,000 a year for a service bureau,” says Gary. “From a return on investment standpoint, it was a pretty straightforward decision to invest in this type of production system.”

Red Dot uses the machine for applications beyond prototyping components. For example, the company can quickly and accurately make jigs and checking-fixtures used in manufacturing.

There are limitations, Gary says. The materials don’t always have the same properties or durability as a molded part. Also, you’re constrained somewhat by the physical size of what your machine can produce.

“Our ability to accelerate the product-development cycle and reduce costs is such a huge advantage,” Gary says. “It’s a huge leap forward, and advancements in materials, including new types of plastics with various physical properties, will keep the machine relevant for years to come.”