Rapid Prototyping for Better Design
Posted on June 09 2015
Rapid prototyping is a group of techniques used to quickly fabricate a scale model of a physical part, assembly or end-use product using three dimensional computer aided design (CAD) data. In use since the 1980’s, the growth of 3D printing has made rapid prototyping the new standard in industrial and consumer design. So how are companies using rapid prototyping to make better design choices? Here are a few real world examples.
Prototypes test FIT AND FUNCTION.
Case-Mate is a company that makes phone cases for many mobile phones. Phone cases are made even before the new phone is released to the public. A project engineer needs to know everything about a potential case, such as does the case look good, is it comfort in a person’s hand, how does it fit, cover and protect the phone, and how do we package the phone case once it is ready to be shipped to stores. Without good quality prototypes, it would be impossible to produce a viable product. Today’s 3D printers can produce snap fit parts, living hinges, high resolution details and even full-color. A project engineer at Case-Mate uses prototypes daily (yes, daily) to design and manufacture a better product. No one likes running blind, and prototypes help shed light on questions that have to be answered. Now.
Prototypes show ACTUAL WEAR AND TEAR.
If time permits, prototypes have the ability to show how the finished product will withstand the test of time. This is why it is so important to have the prototype produced from the actual materials used to make the finished product. An developing cores for thermal imagers needs to know that a casing works with the electronic equipment. Does it stand up to extreme environments like the ones firefighters face every day? If it doesn’t, firefighters can’t find victims through the smoke in a burning building. This means people die. That’s right, engineers are HEROES. And these engineers deserve prototypes that can be put through the ringer and still come out in one, preferably working, piece. Run it over, throw it against the wall, or shoot it with a bazooka. Is it still working afterwards?
Prototypes test if the design is AFFORDABLE.
What is the point of having the most epic design in history if the cost of production makes it impossible to produce? No one wants to pay $350 for a phone case. If a prototype can be produced that is cost effective, without sacrificing quality, then chances are the finished product will sell (if there is market interest, which can be tested with prototypes in a focus group). Once a design is shown to create interest and is cost effective to produce, only then will you spend money on tooling and setup for production.
Prototypes raise CONSUMER INTEREST.
Conventions and design conferences are great ways to get your product out there, but carting around a CAD drawing does little for investors and consumers who need tangible examples of the product on which they wish to spend their money. That’s like ordering a pizza and having the empty box delivered to your door with a photo of a pizza inside. Prototypes need to emulate every aspect of the actual product within the specified tolerances. Suppliers are key here because you want hardware that can emulate many different material properties and there is no one 3D printer that can do everything. 3D Systems offers 30 different printer models using 5 different technologies including plastic jet printing, stereolithography, colorjet printing, multijet printing and direct metal printing. With a wide array of technology, you have more choices than any competitor offers.
Prototypes INSPIRE FUTURE IDEAS.
Industrial designers love prototypes because they help flush out mistakes in current designs and pave the way for new designs. Prototypes have the ability to show how today’s “big thing” is actually not that big and can be improved upon. Even though a designer may not know exactly how to improve a rendering by looking at the CAD drawing, a prototype may be able to show improvements clearly and even inspire the designer to try something new that he or she would not have known was possible without seeing the physical prototype. In the medical arena, prototyping is allowing surgeons to do virtual surgical planning and practice on models, creating new medical procedures that have never existed. Imagine being able to practice a new surgical procedure five or six times on a model printed from the patient's CAT scan, before the actual surgery. It’s happening already. From concept to completion, 3D printing helps reduce design time, lowers costs and gives real world feedback. The original post, written by Leslie Langnau, can be found here. For more information visit makepartsfast.com