Integrating Functional Design into 3D Printing for Prototypes

Functional design is a simple concept that has large implications when combined with 3D printing. The goal is to simply design modularly so that each individual component serves a specific, individual function. It is very similar to many agile practices that are used in programming and management to ensure that all development goals are in small manageable pieces with potential to test and receive feedback quickly.

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 Photo source: SpaceX

3D printing allows you to produce a new component by simply uploading a new data file. There is no retooling required, no lost time, no additional cost. When an object is designed using functional design, engineers can cost-effectively produce new test components to place into real-world testing. Only a few short years ago, that type of testing was limited to simulation software which is only as strong as the assumptions behind it.

Combining professional-grade 3D printing and functional design will make rapid testing the natural next step following rapid prototyping.

Rapid Prototyping - Creating Multiple Iterations with a Single Click

Rapid prototyping is the iterative design process that utilizes minimum viable product improvements that can be functionally tested before applying a full design process. Only once those baseline benchmarks have been met, will the product be submitted for review to eliminate smaller errors and create functional prototypes.

Functional Design has been a regular part of the product design library for the past decade. By designing products so the specific components could be “swapped”, it made rapid prototyping much more cost effective and widespread.

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3D Printing serves to make this standard practice. Imagine generating a series of 3D models by simply inputting different core assumptions/requirements into your software such as a weight of 100g, 300g, and 500g - or a tensile strength of 150 MPa, 250 MPa, and 350 MPa. Software would automatically generate the appropriate 3D models with infill and thickness based on your specific needs. That data is simply provided to the 3D printer - no additional manpower is required. A few hours later, you have physical components that can be tested in the field.


A physical model allows the engineer to verify the design assumptions in reality.

Due to its speed in bringing virtual objects into the real world, 3D printing is quickly becoming the go-to option for the prototyping design phase. Originally, aesthetic and quality were designated to play a secondary role for the sake of functionality. As the quality of 3D prints matures we are seeing that even the prototype phase is approaching the aesthetics of the final product.  Once the whole process results in a prototype free of functional errors (or improvements), the object can implemented into the full production cycle.

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Want to Read More?

Read our next post about preassembled parts and combining materials for Functional Prototypes.

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