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Prototyping is an essential tool and step that all applicable business sectors use to materialize and perfect product ideas into final products, ready for mass manufacturing. While the concept itself is nothing new, the technology that makes prototyping possible has evolved significantly over the years. if you are relatively new to modern prototyping, you will find the following points and suggestions to be quite useful.
What is a Prototype Exactly?
From the first to the last, each prototype represents a step in the product’s evolution. Prototypes are often called experimental product forms, but that’s an incomplete definition. It’s true that prototyping most certainly can be and is used frequently for experimenting with concept products. However, prototyping is also used to debug a product and turn it from a wireframe concept into an actual product.
Therefore, each prototype created during the process represents a stage of the product’s development, be it for experimental or commercial reasons. Companies across the entire industry use prototyping for perfecting everything from automotives and consumer gadgets to robotics and heavy industrial machinery, before putting new blueprints into final production.
What is Rapid Prototyping?
Rapid prototyping is exactly what the name itself suggests. It’s a quick additive and/or subtractive process to fabricate physical prototypes. The blueprint for the concerned product is received as or converted into a computer aided design (CAD) file, which is then used by the automated prototyping machinery + software to bring that design into tangible existence.
The rapid prototyping process is not just significantly faster than older prototyping tech, but it’s also quite capable of using both CNC and 3D printing technology to enhance quality and precision as required.
What Subtractive Prototyping?
Subtractive prototyping is a process where a chunk of any given material is cut, shaped, trimmed, grinded, carved, milled, bent, turned, contracted, and expanded into the prototype. It’s also called CNC machining. The main criticism against CNC machining is the waste of manufacturing material that’s inevitable in subtractive prototyping. Nevertheless, it has its advantages and uses over additive prototyping in several sectors of the industry.
What is Additive Prototyping?
The prototyping processes that bring designs into tangible existence via layering are collectively called additive prototyping. While all methods of additive manufacturing are essentially 3D printing, there are quite a few different technologies involved in 3D printing itself. What you should use for your own prototyping needs should depend on your budget. Generally, the more expensive variants of the 3D printing process are reserved for commercial manufacturing.
What are the Advantages of Prototyping?
Prototyping can help new product ideas, survive, thrive, and develop into a foundation for much bigger ideas down the line. The various advantages of investing into prototypes before starting mass production can be summarized as follows:
- Prototypes turn wireframe concepts into actual, tangible products, before going into mass production.
- Each prototype allows the designer to understand the product’s current flaws and change the design accordingly, until it’s finally ready for a commercial production line.
- Prototyping heavily reduces the probability of an incomplete or defective product making its way to the production line.
- Lower chances of releasing defective products into the market means lower chances of having to pay for expensive recalls, refunds, and even lawsuits later.
- Working prototypes attract and hold the interest of potential investors and current stakeholders.
- Prototypes in their latter stages can also be used to effectively gauge target consumer interest in that product with intelligent marketing strategies.
- For inventors, designers, and innovators, there is no better way to boost their pitch for a new idea, than to have a working prototype ready for demonstration.
What are the Disadvantages of Prototyping?
There are practically no real disadvantages of prototyping a new concept, but mistakes can still be made. The following are not as much examples of potential disadvantages, as they are examples of possible mistakes that newcomers can make:
- Someone just getting started may end up overspending on creating more prototypes than what should be necessary in respect to the project.
- Newcomers may also end up paying more for inferior results if they don’t know where to go for their prototyping requirements.
Which process you will need to use depends entirely on the project first, and then your own budget. Prototypes created with 3D printers are fast becoming the norm though, given how much waste and expense can be prevented when creating via the additive process. Nevertheless, it’s not uncommon to find larger products being prototyped via parts created from multiple different additive and subtractive processes for the same project.