"They'll look over the options and say, 'Hey, I want that one,'" says Reed. "It's up to our industrial designers to make our tools ones that consumers can't resist. ZPrinters help us make concept models that let our designers verify that the product they've created on the computer will look, feel, and handle in a way that consumers will love."
3D printers produce physical models of computer-aided designs much as document printers print business letters from word-processing files. Z Corp.'s 3D printers are fast, affordable, and capable of simultaneously printing a prototype in multiple colors, says a spokesperson.
"Color is very important," Reed says. "The ZPrinters display fine detail in high resolution and accuracy, including logos, labels, and tiny LED control lights. This saves us from having to mask and paint our models, which would be expensive and time-consuming and produce a second-rate model. We can ZPrint a model overnight and have a great-looking, multicolored concept prototype the next morning. The process would take a week or more if we did it the old way, via CNC and hand-painting. Realistically, ZPrinting is our only option for fast, colored models."
Time savings were critical for a recent international design review. Less than 48 hours before a big meeting, SBD designers outside the United States sent Reed's team a CAD design for a new, stackable toolbox. ZPrinting was the only option.
"It was a very large model that we printed in three parts," Reed explains. "The ZPrinter made the project easy, we finished the model a day early, and the design review was a total success. The ZPrinter's quick turnaround is a big factor in shortening our time to market and beating competitors to the punch."
In addition to color and speed advantages, Stanley Black & Decker's ZPrinters generate models more affordable than CNC machining, enabling more concept prototypes earlier in the development phase. Later in the confirmation stage, the team may print out a wall-thickness shell model, saving additional money on material.
"All these steps," says Reed, "simply mean better design."