Prototype/Low Run Production
Benefits of Prototyping and Prototype Types
Prototypes can be effective in speeding up the design of a part, in helping to bridge any gap that may exist between the design and the manufacturing processes, and for mitigating any risks involved in moving ahead to mass production.
Prototyping Costs vs. Savings
Prototyping complex parts, or creating prototypes that are used to analyze or demonstrate interactions between parts, can be expensive. The cost savings in doing so can nevertheless be significant when the overall life cycle of the part is taken into account. Prototyping can make it much easier to optimize a part in terms of form, fit, and function. Savings can be realized during design, during manufacturing, and on into the operational and maintenance phases of the life cycle.
Prototypes can be helpful in bridging gaps that sometimes exist between design and manufacturing. By bringing manufacturing into the process at an early stage, and getting its feedback, the transition from design to build can be faster and much easier.
The bottom line is this: Deciding when to prototype, and what type(s) of prototype might be worth investing in, requires careful thought.
Prototype Types and Uses
The ultimate reason behind creating prototypes is to help turn the concept of a part, structure, or assembly, into reality. A prototype can be as simple as a sketch or a cardboard mockup, it can be a near-replica of the final product, or a digital 3D representation of the product. Depending upon the circumstances, a single prototype during a particular phase of the design process may suffice, a series of prototypes may be needed, or there may be no need for prototyping at all.
Most prototypes can be placed in one of three categories; bearing in mind, that there can often be an overlap from one category to another.
Visual Prototype – This type is primarily used for visualization purposes, with the objective of showcasing a part’s shape and function. Such a prototype will typically be constructed from a different, cheaper, material than is to be used in the actual part. Molded plastic may substitute for metal, or the prototype might be virtual – a 3D CAD representation.
Proof of Concept Prototype – This type is often used to showcase the core functionality of a part, together with its technical design characteristics. A proof of concept prototype does not necessarily need to be a carbon copy of the end product, nor does it necessarily have to be made from the same material. Its purpose is to add value by proving that, at a particular stage in the design, the part will function and perform as intended. Proof of concept prototypes are especially valuable during the design of complex part, and especially when producibility may be in question.
Presentation Prototype – The primary purpose of this type is to verify a part’s viability before it goes into production. A presentation prototype is generally placed in use near the end of the design phase, and will be close to being a carbon copy of the final product.
In-house vs. Outsourcing
In-house prototyping obviously makes the most sense when parts that are not overly complex, prototypes are easy and inexpensive to create, and analytical skills are present, which is generally the case with typical engineering design teams and organizations.
For complex parts, or where proof of concept is of significant importance, it often pays to outsource prototyping to an engineering firm that specializes in the discipline. In selecting such a firm, it is important that it is willing able to actively collaborate
By taking information from a 3D CAD file, and applying 3D Printing techniques, a prototype, sample, or test part can be created and delivered in a matter of hours, as opposed to days or weeks. 3D virtual and printed prototypes can be valuable tools when a part is particularly complex and may require several design iterations.
Having access to qualified rapid prototyping source is also valuable when the objective is to place a product on the market in the shortest possible time. For product manufactures, especially just-in-time manufacturers, it’s often all about speed.
At the other extreme, prototyping is often quite unnecessary and too expensive for less complex parts unless proof of concept is an issue or data is needed to support product quotation activities.
One of the most important tasks inventors and developers face is how to make a functioning prototype of their product. Yes, having blueprints, sketches, renders and videos is great, but if you're looking for investors that can help you get your invention into mass production, you definitely need a prototype.