Behind the Scenes: How We 3D Print for Rapid PrototypingTechnology
“It’s hard to imagine developing hardware without a 3D printer. It’s not only an agile way of prototyping, it’s also sustainable.”
– Darren, Product Design Engineer
Dental fixtures, bike parts, performance-boosting shoe soles, and – in Mitte’s case – engineering crucial parts for the Mitte Home.
Our Hardware team has been using 3D printing behind the scenes throughout the design process. Whilst the composition of Mitte Water is largely determined by water tests and designs by our Lab, the actual hardware used to create that water plays an equally crucial role. This entails a lot of trying things out and verifying of ideas on the go.
“On a daily basis,” says Darren, our Product Design Engineer, “we tend to use our 3D printer to print parts that we know will be in the device, but we want to test and verify their capability in real-time, without having to wait”.
Since starting at Mitte, Darren, along with the Hardware team, has been using 3D printing to test out designs and concepts for our devices with precision, by literally printing the parts, in-house.
How It Works
3D printing is creating a 3D object designed by a digital file.
It works like this: having come up with a concept to test, the Hardware team designs those concepts in a CAD program and then sends it to print in our 3D printer – in our case, the Form 2 by Formlabs. The printer then “prints” the object: layers of material are precisely placed on top of each other from the bottom-up, to form a solid object. We use this printing to create the exact parts that will be used as a prototype; ready to use and ready to test. If it’s not performing as expected, the team can then adjust the original design and print it again.
For Mitte, it’s about being able to print and test different iterations of key parts like the nozzle which allows CO2 to shoot out into the bottle. “We’ve printed that part probably a dozen times,” says Darren, “that’s how we came to a design that actually carbonates the water effectively.”
“The geometry and design changes influenced the output flow a lot. It was fascinating to see how with each iteration, the flow output was becoming better,”
– Tobias, Testing Engineer
Faster Testing, Better Design
It’s this type of in-house manufacturing that allows the team to see if they’ve designed parts the way they want it.
“Within a few hours”, says James, Mitte’s Head of User Experience & Design, “we can gather accurate and highly beneficial insights through testing sessions one day, implement design changes and test again the following day,”
Darren reiterates this in emphasizing that there is an ongoing optimization process: “When waiting on proper final prototypes, we can still test an aspect like how smoothly, for example, the water comes in from the input tank into the bottle. So if we want to check that we’re getting smooth water flow into the bottle, we can 3D print to see how close we are to our specifications [of having a smooth flow].”
Another part is our filtering technology for the Mitte Home, which involves a special filtration layer to get the water purified. “We’ve printed that part the most, and have been using those for months,” says Darren who, along with the Hardware team, has especially designed the “housing” for the filtration layer. Once designed, he gives the prototyped part to the Water team who verifies the results with water analysis, testing which contaminants have been removed using this layer.
“I would show the Water team on the CAD and ask ‘does this fit your needs, have I designed the right outlet to connect to your test rig?’”
“3D printing really fits in nicely with early product development. It’s useful to the industrial designers as well as more technical engineers.”
For testing with water and gas, Mitte tends to use their Formlabs printer because it uses Stereolithography (SLA) technology. Compared to other printing methods, SLA parts have better sealing properties, so it’s ideal for watertight and airtight applications.
“With SLA printers in general, the material you get is actually solid, not porous. So if you need to run water or high-pressure gas through them, we have peace of mind we are getting [the results we want].”
The range of materials also allows for versatility: the team can use resins that are specifically tailored to withstand high temperatures – useful in testing our distillation technology used in the Mitte Home Plus. There are also draft resins that print a lot faster, enabling rapid prototyping when needed. “With new materials getting developed each year, the opportunities of what you can prototype are also growing every year”.
“The level of detail and finish we can achieve in prototyping our designs allows us, more than ever before, to test the features and ergonomics of products with users in a far more realistic way.”
– James, Head of User Experience & Design
Better for the Planet
For an often more energy-intensive procedure, 3D printing has kept Mitte’s design process more streamlined and sustainable: “Often, your supplier would be on the other side of the world, whereas ours is in the next room.”
This proximity has avoided unnecessarily wasted materials through prototypes getting “machined” prematurely, from an external supplier: “You can verify your ideas easily before they’ve ever been sent to a toolmaker who is making them elsewhere”, notes Darren.
And whilst the Hardware team develops our machines using other more systematic approaches too, verifying Mitte’s hardware on the go is a pastime that will continue to develop as Mitte develops:
“Having incredible quality in-house 3D printing with Formlabs,” emphasizes James, “truly enables us to embed rapid iterative design methodologies in our product design development process…which ultimately, creates a better and more user-centric design solution.”
Who is Eike König? A “father, designer, lover, citizen, artist.” And the person behind Mitte’s first artistic collaboration. Born in Hanau in 1968, Eike founded the Berlin visual communications studio HORT in 1994. He was named the Visual Leader of the year in 2011 by the Lead Academy. He also teaches illustration and graphic design
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