Cisco Consumer Business Group, www.linksysbycisco.com

Z Corp., www.zcorp.com

Electronics manufacturer Cisco, Irvine, Calif., is trying to make devices such as wireless routers, media hubs, and audio systems more aesthetically pleasing. To this end, the company’s operation in Denmark decided to uphold the tradition of Scandinavian design — functional, minimal, and affordable — without compromising aesthetics.

The traditional approach calls for engineers to hold handcrafted prototypes, judge the model’s proportions, discover what the object “tells” them, and ensure the form follows function. But handcrafted prototypes are expensive and time consuming. The problem: How to produce sleek, functional designs economically while remaining competitive. The eventual ticket to success came from purchasing a ZPrinter 450 3D printer.

According to Cisco, the 3D printer from Z Corp., Burlington, Mass., pumps out prototypes in hours instead of weeks and for one-fifth the cost. “Models are printed directly from 3D CAD files submitted by Cisco designers around the world,” says European Design Center head Eskild Hansen. “Engineers pass around prototypes, revise designs in CAD, print new models, and repeat the cycle as necessary. And the ZPrinter’s can create multiple colors simultaneously, which helps us communicate a design’s look, feel, and style,” he says.