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3D Printing Charges Up Flexmedia Electronics’ Product Development Process

“The 3D printed prototypes allow us to better demonstrate design concepts and functions, enabling more effective communication.”

— Stanley Yeh,
Flexmedia Electronics Corporation

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3D printed prototype electronic device

Flexmedia, a manufacturer of automotive electronic devices like this one, uses its 3D printer to meet growing customer demand.

Flexmedia Electronics Corporation manufactures automotive electronic devices and flash drive duplicators for both original design manufacturer (ODM) customers and end users. In recent years, Flexmedia, a spin-off from the Taiwanese electronics company Phison Electronics Corporation, has expanded its offerings to meet growing customer demand, introducing new products including video drive recorders, portable multimedia players and bike-mounted power generators. As business grew, meeting product development requirements became a challenge due to limited time and resources.

3D printed prototype part

The Objet 3D Printer reduced the average prototype production time to four hours per part.

3D printed prototype

3D printed prototypes are ready much faster for functional testing than those printed at service bureaus.

3D printed prototypes

Creating complex designs is simpler and quicker with the in-house Objet 3D Printer. Flexmedia can produce prototypes with curved surfaces, undercut geometries and other complexities accurately and quickly.

Stanley Yeh of Flexmedia

“3D printing also promotes innovation and creativity,” said Stanley Yeh of Flexmedia.

Speeding Up the Design Process

Prior to incorporating 3D printing into the product development cycle, Flexmedia outsourced its prototyping to service bureaus. This cost USD $265 (TWD 8,000) for one prototype and took close to a month, including 10 to 15 days for CNC or hand fabrication plus back-and-forth communication and shipping.

“Our business is highly competitive and speed is critical for success. Rapid turnaround time is essential for a quick design validation minimizing time to market and cost of error,” said Stanley Yeh, Deputy Manager of Flexmedia’s Project Management Department. “The existing prototyping approach couldn’t accommodate the growing demand. We needed a solution that optimizes the processes to support the expansion of the business.”

Flexmedia immediately decided to invest in an Objet 3D Printer when it learned about the benefits of additive manufacturing technology. Adopting 3D printing technology reduced the average prototype production time to four hours per part, and lowered costs to approximately USD $100 (TWD 3,000) per design, a cost saving of 63 percent.

Expanded Capabilities

“Time can now be utilized more productively. Instead of waiting for the parts to be created at the service bureaus, we can 3D print the prototypes within just a few hours and spend more time on fine-tuning the designs,” Yeh said. “The 3D printed prototypes allow us to better demonstrate the design concepts and functions, enabling more effective communication with customers.”

ODM customers now receive 3D printed prototypes for functional testing. In addition, the parts are also used in intra-department discussions for concept modeling purposes. Design concepts are 3D printed and circulated within the company to gather comments for improvement. Both external and internal discussions have become more efficient and productive, facilitating constructive feedback and alignment of expectations between the stakeholders.

Simplifying Complex Designs

The 3D printer also provides simpler and more flexible prototyping of complex designs. For example, it would have taken twice the time with CNC milling to produce prototypes with undercut designs, and the results would sometimes fall short of the expectations.

“Precision and time to market is crucial. With the 3D printer, creating complex designs is simpler and quicker. We can now produce prototypes with curved surfaces and undercut geometries accurately,” said Yeh. “3D printing also promotes innovation and creativity. We can now perform concept modeling and functional testing in a much more cost-effective way.”

The Objet 3D Printer, which uses PolyJet™ technology, has streamlined Flexmedia’s design process. Its ability to print layers as thin as 16 microns in the high-quality mode, coupled with a wide selection of materials, lets it create prototypes that are extremely accurate and look exactly like the designers’ concepts. Functional testing such as snap fit and fixture tests on curved surfaces can also ensure that buttons and screens are positioned correctly. Designers can adjust any errors in the 3D CAD file and print the revised prototype immediately, streamlining design iteration.

Since adopting the 3D printer, Flexmedia has better control over its design schedule and product quality. “Our business has grown tremendously, offering better quality products as a result of repeated design testing and verification. Without the Objet 3D Printer, I can’t see how we could have achieved this. I am glad we made the right choice,” concluded Yeh.

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