3D modeling in manufacturing is essential for helping companies meet their goals. Here’s a closer look at how they rely on it.
1. 3D Models Support Better Prototyping
The products that reach the market were seldom in their final forms initially. Instead, manufacturers go through an in-depth iteration phase. It involves making small, sometimes barely noticeable changes to a product in hopes of improving it.
It’s not cost-effective to create ready-to-sell versions of the products in those cases. That approach also takes too much time. However, 3D modeling is an excellent option. Many companies use it for rapid prototyping. 3D printing is one of the most common ways to engage in rapid prototyping because the machines are incredibly fast and readily available.
Experts also warn that it’s dangerous to move to mass production without creating enough prototypes first. The ideal approach is to gradually make more prototypes as the early stages of manufacturing progress. That makes it easier to identify problems well before products reach the market.
2. 3D Modeling Can Make Tests More Effective
3D modeling has reached a new level, thanks to specialized software programs and powerful computers. However, not all 3D models are built with computers. Many manufacturers in the automotive sector still use clay for their three-dimensional models. They work well when subjecting cars to wind-tunnel testing. It can cost thousands of dollars per hour for a wind tunnel rental. Clay models let people make changes quickly to see how various tweaks make automobiles more or less aerodynamic or resilient.
It’s also advantageous that these clay models can be as large as the automobiles themselves. This allows design team members to show manufacturers how certain aesthetic changes affect the car’s overall look and functionality. A physical clay model also helps manufacturers verify what the product looks like outdoors, which is particularly important for cars.
In sectors other than automotive, or in cases where it’s not essential to have a physical version of a product, a digital 3D model may suffice. However, this example shows that even the significant digitization progress does not make physical 3D models obsolete.
3. 3D Modeling in Manufacturing Can Supplement Instructions
Augmented reality (AR) has also opened new opportunities in 3D modeling for manufacturing. Consider how manufacturers are often the first points of contact for customers who have trouble using the products they buy. The combination of augmented reality and a 3D model allows people to interact with a digital representation in real-time. This can help customers who struggle to understand the written instructions alone.
However, the potential use-cases span way beyond customer support. Many field service technicians use AR and virtual reality to help their client calls go smoothly. Imagine if someone could see a 3D model of a specialized piece of industrial equipment in front of them before starting to work on it. Most people would find that option highly preferable to staring at a diagram in a manual.
3D models can also help manufacturers successfully pitch to potential customers or investors. It’s one thing to verbally walk them through sets of instructions to explain a product’s viability in the market. However, a 3D model accompanying an item’s demonstration makes it easier to see that whatever the manufacturer offers is something they genuinely need or want.
Many people have better opinions of manufacturers if they feel they provide above-average support for what they sell. It’s not appropriate or necessary for every product to have an accompanying 3D model. However, when the items in question are extremely intricate or could otherwise benefit from visual supplementation, including a three-dimensional model can be a wise choice.
4. 3D Modeling Can Support Logistics Decisions
Manufacturers won’t succeed if they can’t get a handle on all the logistics associated with their supply chains. That means tracking everything from the raw materials to the finished products arriving on customers’ doorsteps. Failing to stay on top of these details can mean manufacturers waste money, disappoint people in their target audience and encounter other operational difficulties.
However, 3D modeling in manufacturing can help companies see the locations and causes of bottlenecks that will slow down production if left unresolved. Manufacturing leaders can also determine the likely effects of certain changes. For example, could an incoming delivery be rerouted to miss a snowstorm? What could manufacturers do to make their supply chains more resilient against shocks?
Modeling can’t give definitive answers to all questions like these, but it can help people anticipate outcomes before they happen in real life. A manufacturer might even build a 3D model of a product so it’s easier to see which parts are interchangeable versus essential. Supply chain delays have affected many manufacturers. Between product shortages and COVID-19-related shutdowns, company leaders must be exceptionally agile and able to respond quickly and decisively to things outside their control. 3D models help them see which actions will likely pay off when things get challenging. That gives people in charge more confidence to act without hesitation.
5. 3D Models Aid Planning
Manufacturers increasingly use 3D models called digital twins, which are highly accurate digital representations of real-life assets. A manufacturing company might have digital twins of industrial machinery, products, or entire facilities.
Digital twins are similar to prototypes in that they allow testing products before production starts. However, manufacturers can do much more with them. Imagine the convenience of visualizing numerous factory layouts for a facility under construction. Decision-makers can see different options earlier, making it easier to approve one.
Some manufacturers also build digital twins of equipment. The digital twin represents the ideal operation, and the physical asset has data-tracking sensors attached to it. Comparing the actual performance to the digital twin helps manufacturers confirm when machines are not working as expected. That gives them more time to schedule a service call before the machinery fails and halts production.
Is 3D Modeling in Manufacturing the Right Choice?
It can take time to figure out the best ways to use 3D modeling in manufacturing. However, a good starting point is to see what other businesses are already doing in that regard. Hearing about their successes can provide inspiration about how to use 3D models to overcome challenges and make an organization stronger over the short- and long-term.