Ted Hickman

What is rapid prototyping?

Rapid prototyping it is the process of creating prototypes quickly so that you can visually inspect a product, or parts of a product, during the process of product design.

A prototype is a preliminary version of the end-product and prototypes are frequently used to evaluate the design, test the technology, or analyse the working principle of a product. This then gives valuable feedback on a product and outlines any changes that may need to be made.

Rapid prototyping can be used at any stage of the product development cycle, however, and can be used for creating any component or sub-component. Rapid prototyping, as you might expect, is a speedy process and so can be repeated numerous times along the design process. It is often done using 3D printing, although other methods can be used depending on the product being created.

Why use rapid prototyping?

In this fast-moving consumer market, companies need to design and produce new products faster than before in order to remain competitive. Since faster product development and technology innovation are key to a company’s success, rapid prototyping is now one of the most important elements of new product development.

If businesses can prototype elements and products quickly then they can speed up their overall creation process. Rapid prototyping allows for quicker analysis, user testing, and validation of a product meaning it can be finalised more quickly. In designing a prototype, businesses might need to ensure that the product has the appropriate tolerances. In order to accomplish that, they can consider GD&T (Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing). In this technique, the exact shape and size of a part are clearly defined, along with the variances allowed from the ideal product. By using GD&T symbols (like these gd&t runout symbols) and parameters for product design, businesses can ensure that their prototype meets the required specifications and is manufactured accurately.

Like any other manufacturing or design process, rapid prototyping does have its pros and cons, some of which we have outlined below:

Advantages of rapid prototyping

  • Reduced design & development time
  • Allows functionality testing
  • Improved and increased user involvement
  • Ability to evaluate human factors and ergonomics
  • Minimises risks and potential costs

Disadvantages of rapid prototyping

  • Some processes are still expensive and not economical
  • Requires skilled labour which can be more costly
  • The range of materials that can be used is limited – some materials cannot be matched to that of the end product so accuracy may be off
  • Some key features can be overlooked if they cannot be prototyped

Finding the right partner who understands your product design requirement is vital. So when looking to get rapid prototypes created, ensure you use an experienced product design and manufacturing company.

Infographic created by RevPart – Plastic Injection Molding

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