3D printing at mitte®: Putting the Pro in prototyping
It was a usual day in the office until we received the delivery of our spanking new Ultimaker 3 Extended. The team (mostly the engineers) immediately burst into excited activity, and had our 3D printer set up and whirring away on its first job in no time.
3 reasons for 3D printing
Before Mitte was founded, Moritz K., our Mechanical Design Engineer worked on other projects with 3D printing in Fab Lab.
And before that, he worked with CNC milled parts, SLA, and SLS in other projects, but they were too complicated, pricey, and messy.
When we starting working on Mitte, we continued with 3D printing because it was a great tool and we knew what to expect from it. Since then, we’ve always used the Ultimaker 2+.
“It has increased our prototyping efficiency and speed, and saved us costly fees from engaging big institutes to conduct tests on our machine parts.” says Moritz. “In a way – if not for 3D printing, we wouldn’t have been able to build Mitte with such a tight budget.”
The main benefits of us employing 3D printing include:
1. Increasing speed and decreasing cost during the prototyping process, by replacing CNC machined or conventionally manufactured parts that will otherwise take more steps and time, or are just impossible to carry out.
2. Verifying design ideas of our product, as it is always better to conduct user testing using 3D models in real life as opposed to showing 2D mockups in pictures and words.
3. Building our own affordable test rigs such as our chlorine vapor stress and our proprietary peltier distillation test rigs, instead of getting an institute to test them at 50 times the price.
From the Ultimaker 2+ to the Ultimaker 3 Extended
Now, we have upgraded from the Ultimaker 2+ to the Ultimaker 3 Extended. These are some of the machine parts that we have 3D printed and tested so far:
1. Mineral cartridge prototypes
Can you spot the difference between these three models?
We printed mineral cartridges of different sizes, with minute differences down to the millimetre in terms of the circumference and size. These came in useful during user testing sessions, where we observed how participants handled these cartridges and determined which was the most user-friendly version – the one with the 3.5 mm radius.
2. Input water tank lids
Different tank lids have been printed so we can test how users interact with the mechanism, shape, and size of the lid. Currently, we are still re-designing this lid to achieve optimal user experience. It’s quite a process!
3. Dispense head
These were tested for water flow and output, to ensure that splashing will not occur when you’re dispensing Mitte water.
4. Waste water tank
Besides testing user experience, we also 3D print various machine parts to see how they can come together during assembly. This waste water tank was printed to make sure that the interaction points between separate sections had the right diameters for the perfect fit.
It’s hard to determine the precise dimensions based on drawings on a screen. But when printed out, we can say for sure that a diameter of 24 mm fits better than 23 mm.
It comes through clearly that our product development and design process relies heavily on our ability to test and iterate quickly. When we’re not sure if a certain part of the machine will work as intended, we check the design and its mechanism by printing and testing it, then changing the design and printing and testing it again.
This repetitive process takes place continuously in our lab before Mitte is finalized.
Prototyping with a 3D printer such as the Ultimaker makes it possible for us to carry out fast and affordable iterative steps. This goes towards our mission of building a smart, human-centred product that our users truly love.
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