3D printing is affecting different people in different ways. It is bringing profit to some, carefully crafted memorabilia to others and even hardship for a few. It’s bringing hardship due to the fact that this technology is beating incumbents with the use of advanced 3D printing, or rapid prototyping services or technologies. Nevertheless, it is finding its way into every field. In the case of the company Frog, it changed how they did their design research.
While planning a trip ahead to promote the company’s prospective new program, an Interactive Voice Response system (IVR) for a health hotline, members of the company decided that they weren’t satisfied with paper prototypes. As design researchers they have to get feedback from live potential customers on the product or service that they are providing or selling. Most people’s idea of what they visually expect the final product or service to look like may not be what is on paper. The end result can be quite different than what was envisioned or expected. This can be heart breaking for both the manufacturer or designer and the customer or end user. So, keeping this mind, a physical prototype, it seemed, was the answer. They wanted to make a physical phone to show their customers.
As the trip they were planning would take the employees to developing countries, there were many challenges to be met. When these sorts of companies enter small villages to do their design research, many people show up. The numbers can be huge, it becomes a special event of sorts and communities are eager to know and see what’s going on.
Unfortunately, as a result of this excitement people taking part in the design research tend to answer in ways they think the researcher wants to hear. Combined with language barriers, you can probably understand how difficult it is to get proper information in such circumstances. Watching the participants use the service would be far more efficient and effective.
Considering the above, an employee decided to reach out to the design technologists in the company and have a prototype of a phone made. 48 hours of rapid prototyping, a lot of anticipation and a lot of code processing later a prototype was brought forward. It was a keypad input device covered by a phone case, which was in fact 3D printed. Once thoroughly checked, the prototype was packed and ready to travel the world with its presenters.
As expected the prototype proved to be every bit worth it. When they arrived in Malawi they put the prototype phone to immediate use. The participants there first observed using the old IVR service and afterwards were given the new prototype phone. This gave the customers the chance to try out the company’s new and improved IVR service. The employees were then able to quickly discover which ideas worked with these people and which needed to be discarded.
A particularly charming moment was when a grandmother who had never used a phone tried it out. Her excitement and astonishment were vivid and provided a sense of achievement for the researchers. After some time she was able to retrieve information she wanted, proving the success of Frog’s new innovative ideas.
The employees at Frog realized just how effective bringing a real prototype to the scene was. The design research they were doing was meant to inspire individuals to be more creative in their products. With paper prototypes the inspiration seems to be lacking but with the physical prototype in hand they could switch from design research to actual designing rather quickly. This was extremely useful in developing countries like Malawi where language barriers and the lack of ability to use technologies proved to be a difficult roadblock in actually doing design research.
Testing ideas using physical prototypes that the potential client can handle has proven to be exponentially greater for doing design research as compared to conversations and paper prototypes. However, the fact that they are seeing success stories proves over and over that this field of work has yet to experience it’s full potential. The innovations and creativity is bound to gush forward as more researchers get involved.
Frog continued on to adjust the prototype as needed and used them in other countries as well. Rapid prototyping services have really changed the way this company did things and they have never looked back.
There are thousands of stories similar to this one showcasing the unique potential for rapid prototyping services. In this case, Frog was able to capitalize on the time saving capabilities of rapid prototyping services and have the prototype ready in just two days. In other instances companies have saved both time and money, factors that are huge in the manufacturing and business world. And yet in other instances companies have had entire paradigm shifts in how they carry out their business due to these services.
There was a time when 3D printing technology was hardly even talked about and was hardly known by anyone to begin with. In today’s world it’s hard to miss such a groundbreaking technology as it seeps into just about every industry. The list of uses for 3D printing seems to grow ever longer as creative minds discover this technology.
In its current form it seems to be useful to big industries or small businesses. However this is most likely not going to be the case several years from now. It is expected that 3D printers will be found in the common household once costs of 3D printers go down. If not in the near future, the prices will eventually go down, allowing for an even greater number of customers to own one.
Once this happens, these 3D printers might be just as common as the personal computer, which was once considered to be a rare complex device only used by big companies. Just as the PC became a norm, so will 3D printers and who knows what new and exciting uses people will find for these auspicious printers. More will be revealed for sure!
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