This article is part of Nova SBE Digital Experience Lab's annual cycle of reflection on technology, business and sustainability in the month dedicated to 3D printing, which will focus on the impact of 3D printing on business, society and the future. Join us on April 20th to discuss how 3D printing enables rapid prototyping.

3D printing is changing the way businesses approach hardware product development by providing an affordable and accessible way to create prototypes. As an engineer with hands-on experience, I have seen the game-changing impact of 3D printing technology. It enables companies to produce low-volume products on demand without having to invest in expensive, labour-intensive production processes. This reduces the time to market and increases overall process efficiency.

Before rapid prototyping technologies (such as 3D printing), the creation of prototypes that resemble a final hardware product was a difficult and expensive process that often required manual labour. The introduction of 3D printing has made prototyping more accessible, with reduced entry barriers and lower costs. As a result, product development has become more efficient and more accessible to a wider range of people and companies. The effectiveness of 3D printing has evolved, with higher speed and accuracy while costs have fallen as technology has advanced.

During my master's at Nova SBE, we used 3D printing to develop our project Puraqua in which we developed a cost-effective water filter solution for the Portuguese market. With the use of 3D printing technology, we were able to translate our ideas and concepts into an actual product. This allowed us to perform experimental research, gather user insights, and learn lessons for future development while using a real version of our product. The ability to quickly and affordably produce our hardware product allowed us to iteratively improve our product: we could build a prototype, test it in front of consumers, and apply what we learned to the next set of prototypes until we had a solution that was safe and satisfied user needs. Working directly with the digital experience lab provided us with the chance to print components as needed, allowing us to make significant progress and improve our solution as we developed it.

When pitching our solution, we could present a working physical product which had been tested and proven without the need for investment. This made the product far more interesting to investors as this ensured that funding for initial development is not required which therefore eliminated the initial risks involved in product development.

One of the great advantages of 3D printing technology is that it is easy to learn and has low entry barriers. You don't necessarily need an engineering or product design background to get involved with it. There are plenty of resources and user-friendly ways to develop innovative ideas, making it accessible to everyone, not just those with technical backgrounds.

As the technology continues to improve and the costs continue to go down, we are seeing more and more businesses adopting 3D printing technology to drive innovation and improve their products. The service models are easier to build up, but 3D printing is an enabler in hardware product development, which was previously a costly and challenging process.

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