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Rapid Prototyping: A Vital Part Of Modern Product Development

Last Updated on 2020/07/22

Prototyping is undeniably a crucial part of every product development process.

Even though product engineers and designers might create makeshift proof-of-concept models with basic gear, producing a fully functional prototype often requires the same process as a finished product. Rapid prototyping can help companies turn particular ideas into realistic proofs of concept, then advance these concepts to high-fidelity prototypes that work and look as they are final products. The prototyping process itself is essential for each modern product development as it guides the product through a series of validation stages toward mass production. The rapid prototyping procedure enables production engineers and designers to create prototypes directly from CAD data faster than ever before. It also gives them the possibility to apply quick and frequent revisions of the product design based on real-world testing and real people’s feedback. In this short guide, we’ll present how rapid prototyping fits into the modern product development process, its importance, the most common rapid prototyping techniques, and it’s application.

Defining Rapid Prototyping 

Rapid prototyping or rapid prototype is a somewhat new term. In its most basic form, it is the manner of creating prototypes promptly to functionally and visually evaluate the engineered product design before it goes into mass production. In other words, a prototype is the preliminary version of the end-product. It is used to evaluate its design, implemented technology, and analyze the working principle that will later translate into a real-world working system. Quickly created prototypes have become an integral part of engineering product design and in new product development processes at the same time. Rapid prototyping services can be used at various stages of the product development cycle for each component or sub-component and can be repeated countless times along the product development process.

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Why Is Rapid Prototyping So Important In Modern Product Development? 

In the fast-moving consumer market that we inevitably live in, businesses need to develop and introduce new products much faster to remain competitive on the market. And given that fast product development is key to a company’s success, rapid prototyping is one of the essential elements of new product development. The rapid prototyping is critical in modern product development since it plays a crucial role in the process of building successful products because it accelerates the new product development process; it validates the concept design, fit, and function of the model in the early stages; the prototype will provide a product verification against the technical requirements and business objectives in the final stage; it allows functionality testing to finalize the final specification of the product; it gives the end-customer a hands-on user experience so the producer can get real feedback before the stage of mass production. 

Rapid Prototyping VS 3D Printing 

Even though in modern-day environments, rapid prototyping is often used alongside terms like 3D printing and additive manufacturing, it’s not the same thing. The difference is that 3D printing or additive manufacturing is a fabrication process where the result is the end-product, and rapid prototyping is a process where the prototype is the end product or the outcome. Likewise, the 3D printing technology on its own or in combination with other techniques and methods could be used to develop a rapid prototype.   

Rapid Prototyping Techniques

Picking the proper rapid prototyping technology is vital to the success of a prototype. Every rapid prototyping method comes with its compromise in terms of speed, material compatibility, cost, fidelity level, and development stage. As rapid prototyping doesn’t need to be restricted to one process, a developer can use more than one manufacturing technique to put together a finished prototype. 

Stereolithography, selective laser sintering, direct metal laser sintering, binder jetting, fused deposition modeling, and poly jetting are all additive manufacturing techniques that are frequently used to engineer or design rapid prototypes. Other commonly used technologies include CNC machining prototyping, 3D printing, vacuum casting, and investment casting.

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Applications Of Rapid Prototypes 

Owing to a diversity of available technologies and materials, rapid prototyping supports engineers and designers throughout product development, from the initial concept models to engineering, validation, and finally, production.  

Concept Models 

Proof-of-concept or Concept model prototypes assist product developers in authenticating ideas and assumptions and testing the product’s viability. Concept models are an excellent way to demonstrate a particular design to stakeholders, establish discussion, and drive acceptance or rejection using low-risk and low-cost concept explorations. 3D printing is an excellent tool to support concept modeling, as it provides unmatched turnaround time to turn a computer file into a real concept prototype.  

Functional Prototypes 

By the time a newly designed product moves into subsequent stages of its production, details become increasingly important. Using different rapid prototyping techniques, engineers and designers can create high-fidelity prototypes that accurately represent the finished product. Using a functional prototype, the company can easily verify the design, fit, function, and manufacturability of the model before investing in expensive tooling and moving into production. These prototypes require thorough functional and usability testing to see how a part or assembly functions when subjected to stresses and conditions of real-world use. 

Pre-Production And Manufacturing 

Coming up with a functional prototype is only half the battle, as now the design has to be repeatedly and economically manufacturable to become a successful final product. Balancing the aesthetics and functionality of the design while maintaining the requirements of the end product, Design For Manufacturability (DFM) is an utmost important piece of the puzzle when developing a new product. This process facilitates the manufacturing process to reduce production costs and keep the price per piece below the required level. Rapid prototyping makes it possible for engineers to create small batch runs, one-off custom solutions, and sub-assemblies for engineering and design validation builds to test manufacturability. 

Final Words 

Reduced design and development time, reduced overall product development cost, elimination or reduction of risk, functionality testing, user involvement, and the ability to evaluate human factors and ergonomics are just a few of the well-documented benefits that rapid prototypes put on the table for modern product development. A prototype is undoubtedly not something that should be taken lightly as there needs to be an enormous amount of consideration put into it before moving ahead and creating one. We hope you’ll find our short guide useful and helpful enough to proceed with developing superb product designs.

Featured image source: Design 1st

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