Rapid Prototyping: How to Reduce 3D Print Time

Imagine this: you’ve just finished a new design and you’re ready to 3D print a prototype to try out. You load the model into your 3D printing software and--it’s going to take how many hours? Is that right?! It’s called rapid prototyping for a reason, and you thought 3D printing was supposed to be fast. So why is it going to take so long to print a quick prototype? There has to be something you’re missing….

3D printing is ideal for rapid prototyping because it is much faster than other manufacturing methods, but it can still take many hours to print a model. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to dramatically reduce the printing time and get the prototype in your hands more quickly. I’m going to share a few of the techniques we use at 3DPros to reduce print time and deliver prototypes to our customers on time.

Idea 1: Change Software Settings To Speed Up The 3D Print

The most impactful way to reduce the printing time of your prototype is to choose software settings that trade print quality for speed. You might be surprised at the quality level you can achieve even with making this trade-off, and for a prototype it is often more valuable to get it into your hands quickly. For information on specific software settings to look at, see our previous post on this topic. 

Idea 2: Print A Test Piece

Another way to reduce printing time is to print a smaller object. When you’re first prototyping a new design, there are generally a number of unknowns that you really need a physical part to understand. Will this hinge mechanism work the way you expect? Is that cutout big enough for the antenna to fit through? With these types of design questions, it can be frustrating to spend hours on a print, only to discover that your measurements were a few millimeters off.

In these cases, I like to create a quick test model and 3D print it to try out my idea. If I can spend an hour on a small print to validate an idea before I kick off the 30-hour print of the full design, that’s time saved.

Idea 3: Use A Larger Nozzle

Most consumer-level 3D printers come with a 0.4mm nozzle, which allows for a high level of detail. However, the downside to the 0.4mm nozzle is that it limits the maximum layer height you can use as well as making each layer take longer to print due to the small nozzle size. For larger prints, consider using a larger nozzle. A 0.6mm or 0.8mm nozzle is still capable of an impressive amount of detail and enables you to use a larger layer height. This will speed up your prints, allowing you to 3D print large objects more quickly.

As an added bonus, objects printed with a a larger nozzle are usually stronger than objects printed with a smaller nozzle. For both of these reasons, we maintain a supply of various nozzle sizes so that we can choose the best nozzle to meet the goal of the print, whether that be maximum detail or strength and printing speed.

Idea 4: Parallelize Your Print

In many cases, your prototype either already consists of multiple pieces or could be split into multiple pieces. If you can split up your design into multiple prints and have access to multiple printers, you can print more than one part of the design at once. This is a strategy we use extensively at 3DPros. By operating several of the same model printer and using identical plastic filament in each, we can easily print the parts for a large order across multiple printers at once, which lets us deliver completed prototypes much faster than if we were using a single printer. If you have access to multiple printers, it can save you a lot of time.

If you need to split one large design into smaller pieces for parallel printing, check out Autodesk Meshmixer--you can use that tool to split a model along a plane, which allows you to break up a large model into multiple smaller models.

Speed Matters

3D printing is having a huge effect on the product development process because of the rapid prototyping it enables. However, you can only take advantage of that faster iteration cycle if you can get your designs printed quickly. These are just a few ideas to help you reduce the time for your 3D prints, but hopefully they will serve as a good starting point for optimizing your prototyping. We use these techniques and more at 3DPros to deliver parts more quickly to our customers when speed is critical, so we think they’ll work for you too.

If you find yourself in a position where you need large 3D printed parts quickly, get in touch with us--we’d love to help make your next project a success!