As engineers, we know the pain points and frustrations engineers have to deal with on a daily basis. From determining what issues exist on the shop floor to pursuing solutions, engineers have quite a few challenges to overcome. From a product development side, how can you know what will work and what doesn’t? For us, rapid prototyping is a key fixture in our shop, so let’s talk about what it is and the benefits that come with it, which is why it’s a staple here.
When a product team is developing a new part or feature, prototyping is a low-risk method for exploring and validating ideas. While the prototyping phase is renowned for testing and innovating, the methods behind rapid prototyping accelerates the process.
Rapid prototyping is the fast fabrication of a physical part, model, or assembly using computer-aided design (CAD) software. When it comes to the actual design, this step is carried out using additive manufacturing processes—namely 3D printing. Other technologies include high-speed machining, casting, molding, and extruding. The main goal of rapid prototyping is to get effective insights and user feedback early, in order to refine the design until it meets all requirements.
The concept of rapid prototyping dates back to the 1970s, when Joseph Henry Condon and his team at Bell Labs developed the Unix Circuit Design System to automate the laborious and error-prone task of manually converting drawings to design and develop circuit boards. Years later, the principles of rapid prototyping are still prevalent and advantageous for three key reasons:
It’s in the name. Rapid prototyping allows you to have the part designed and tested in an abbreviated timeframe. This allows you to have a full-scale model ready to determine whether all requirements have been met or if more adjustments need to be made. If all standards have been satisfied, then the design can be approved and full production can begin. If, however, there are shortcomings in the prototype, then rapid prototyping allows you to make a new iteration of the design can be designed, developed, and tested in a much shorter turnaround time than traditional prototyping allows for.
Of all the forms of prototyping, rapid prototyping is consistently regarded as the most cost-effective method. This is because the parts are developed in low volumes and each prototype is much cheaper than any final production model that may emerge from the process. This allows you to do product testing with minimal financial risk—keeping your production on budget.
3. Full-scale model for approval
Dependent on your business model, rapid prototyping allows you to send physical models to the client and management team for their approval. Beyond giving them a concrete visual of the project in such a way a drawing rarely can, these prototypes can help the team determine viability, effectiveness, and reception of the market before an order for full production is made. The feedback from the team can then help improve the final design.
As you can see, the benefits of rapid prototyping are substantial. Not only does the process allow for earlier visibility of the project, but it also allows any flaws and issues to be identified and amended quickly at a low cost. Additionally, active communication between parties leads to greater results and the delivery of a higher quality part or model. Rapid prototyping is a critical process for engineers, which is why we make it a centerpiece of our services—so if you want to expedite your prototyping processes, we hope you’ll contact us, we’d love to work with you.