Rapid Prototyping Services

Prototypes play a critical role in the design and development of a new product. They enable industry professionals involved in the manufacture of the product to test a potential design for fit and functionality, allowing them to identify opportunities for adjustment or enhancement. Some of the elements often affected by these tests include construction material, shape, size, color, and assembly requirements. For customers looking for a way to streamline the product development process, rapid prototyping is an ideal solution.

The term “rapid prototyping” encompasses a variety of manufacturing techniques and technologies used to generate a physical model from a computer-based design. While the exact specifications of the process depend on the method employed, each rapid prototyping solution follows the same basic concept: engineers load the CAD file into a specialized machine, which quickly and accurately reproduces the model in a physical medium. Compared to conventional prototyping methods, they allow product manufacturers to create functional models within hours or days rather than weeks. As such, product designs can be tested—and, if needed, altered—more thoroughly before production.

What Is Rapid Prototyping?

As indicated above, rapid prototyping refers to the creation of a physical representation of a part or assembly using computer-aided design (CAD) technology. The manufacturing methods used to produce the actual prototypes vary depending on the part and production specifications. While the most commonly employed is additive manufacturing (i.e., 3D printing), other techniques include machining, casting, molding, and extrusion.

Regardless of the manufacturing method employed, fast production speed is critical. This quality is essential to the rapid prototyping process as it is supposed to be able to produce models, incorporate design feedback, and test new iterations much faster than standard prototyping and production processes.

Rapid Prototyping Applications

Rapid Prototyping MachiningRapid prototyping is best suited, but not limited to, small components, particularly those that could be usefully modeled in thermoplastics. Still, this scarcely narrows the field of applicable industries.

The Hendey Group serves a diverse customer base that finds utility in rapid prototyping for concept models or functional prototypes. Such industries include:

  • Renewable Energy
  • Personal Mobility
  • Oil and Gas
  • Consumer Goods
  • Sporting Equipment
  • Medical
  • Battery and Energy Storage

 

Rapid Prototyping Advantages

Rapid prototyping poses many benefits over alternative methods. Aside from its speed, it also carries advantages, such as:

  • Versatility: The variety of common rapid prototyping techniques means that the process can be adapted to many products.
  • Labor Savings: Because the model is generated entirely by machine based on a computer model, very little human labor goes into the prototyping process.
  • Precision and Utility: Rapid prototyping methods can produce accurate and functional depictions of the final product. This allows for more extensive testing in less time.

Producing fully functioning prototypes will help ensure that potential investors understand your product’s purposes and capabilities. A well-executed prototype makes entrepreneurs appear more professional when meeting with potential investors, which gives them a big advantage.

Steps to Building a Prototype

  • Creating a concept sketch: Whether on paper or in a digital program, it is important to create a drawing of the prototype to help visualize the details.
  • Developing the virtual prototype: Virtual design tools—such as NVIDIA Iray, CATIA Live Rendering, and Quadro—turn a simple sketch or drawing into a realistic 3D rendering that can be rotated and animated to facilitate visualization from all angles.
  • Building the physical prototype: Once the prototype design is complete, there are two options for taking it and turning it into a physical prototype. If the company has the skills and resources required, they can build the prototypes themselves. Alternatively, if they have neither the skills nor resources, they can outsource the manufacture of the prototypes to professionals.
  • Locating a manufacturer: After testing the prototype and verifying it meets all product requirements, it is time to find a manufacturing partner that can produce the product in the necessary volumes at a profitable price. Partners that offer free samples and testing with 3D printing can help cut costs in the early testing and production stages.

During the above process, it is crucial to remain adaptable as new factors come into play that can affect the profitability of the product, such as:

  • Target audience demands
  • Price points the customer is willing to pay
  • Manufacturing needs and capabilities
  • Refinement and testing needs

The cost of rapid prototyping operations varies from project to project, depending on what is required by the customer. For example in dollars:

  • 5–10K: This level assures proof of concept and design assistance. Customers generally receive a consultation to help them understand various factors regarding the design and prototyping process, such as what they need, what steps to take, and how much the process will cost.
  • 10K+: This level encompasses prototype creation and testing including copies for the client to hold and evaluate.
  • 10K–100K+: This level is generally for customers with complete projects of want to get to a premanufactured state. Products with electronic and/or a need for assistance in filing intellectual property (IP) application can also apply to this cost range.

Choose the Best Rapid Prototyping Process for Your Needs

The optimal rapid prototyping process for a given product requires careful consideration. Each prototyping technique has its own strengths and weaknesses, which must be balanced against the constraints of your project. Most rapid prototyping will rely on a form of 3D printing but can also included, laser cutting, waterjet cutting, machining, casting, and even welding processes. The most common options are:

Rapid Prototyping Services

  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM): FDM is one of the cheapest methods of rapid prototyping, heating, and extruding a polymer substrate to form the product layer by layer. The models are generally accurate but lack the same level of fine detail afforded by some other options. It can also be slower than other processes. It is still useful for concept modeling and even certain functional prototyping projects.
  • Stereolithography (SLA): SLA involves a different additive fabrication process wherein a laser beam traces a design into a photopolymer with a final UV cure step. The process is fast and cost-effective, but much pricier than FDM modeling. The key benefit of SLA is it produces extremely high-quality, high-resolution prints. Materials available for the SLA process vary greatly in physical properties and should be chosen wisely.
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): SLS prototyping closely resembles SLA, but the main differences lie in the materials used and the limits with material properties and apperance. With SLS, the base is not a photopolymer but rather particles of ceramic, metal, or plastic that must be fused together. This results in a high level of detail compared to other techniques, but often at a higher cost. The prototypes can be functional straight out of the printer, which is ideal for applications that require rigorous testing before production. In some cases the SLS process can produce material that are close in strength to production materials.

An alternative to the 3D printing processes mentioned above is urethane casting. This process utilizes 3D printed master patterns and silicone molds to cast urethane material into low-cost, high-quality precision parts. Similarly to 3D printing, it allows manufacturers to rapidly produce prototypes (and production-level parts), enabling them to have greater design flexibility.

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Contact The Hendey Group To Help Create Your Prototype Today

Prototyping is one of the most crucial stages of product development. A well-rendered model gives you the best possible insight as to the form and function of your final component. Rapid prototyping expedites the procedure, making it faster and easier to make critical design decisions.

At The Hendey Group, we draw on our extensive engineering experience to take your product from concept to reality, advising you on the best prototyping techniques along the way. For more information about how we can benefit your design, submit your inquiry today.