Rapid Prototyping Design Requirements: Top Questions Answered

Example of rapid prototyping design in action

Entering the world of rapid prototyping often invokes more questions than it seems to answer. Aligning your product design process to the strengths of rapid prototyping design to get a better product to market faster does not necessarily mean that you must reinvent the wheel. By developing an understanding through the review of the most common questions asked of manufacturing consultants, you will be in a better position to leverage rapid prototyping for your project initiatives.

What Does the Term Rapid Prototyping Mean?

Rapid prototyping is a term that is used to describe a design process that is built with the goal of getting a product ready for manufacturing—fast. This involves more than just creating a prototype of a design to ensure that it is ready for the public; it is, in fact, a larger container for a variety of design tasks that ensure quality and consistency is maintained throughout the process. It is expected that by the end of the project you will have a prototype that can be used for testing or demonstration.

Typically, rapid prototypes are created using a process called additive manufacturing. This is a process in which a product is created, layer by layer, using the design specifications from a CAD design. CNC rapid prototyping can also be employed, which allows for a more realistic representation of the product, both in terms of overall functionality and the use of the actual materials to be used in the final product.

How Can My Design Project Benefit from Using Rapid Prototyping?

Example of rapid prototyping design in action

Using rapid prototyping in your projects will present you with a number of benefits, all of which stem from the proactive controls built into each task. It is these controls that make the speedy creation of high-quality products possible through the use of consistency in tasks, review points, and a deeper involvement of project teams, providing deeper levels of precision at all stages of the project. This high level of collaboration means that most defects are caught early, further saving time and cutting costs.

The early establishment of product design specifics, as well as the ability to make digital alterations quicker means that the first prototypes are more likely to be the only ones needed. Getting it right the first time further contributes to cost and time savings, and gives you a perfected model of your product that can be tested, or used as a presentation tool in front of customers or investors. Also, this adds another dimension to a patent application as well, improving its chances for approval.

Are There Specific Methods Used in Rapid Prototyping?

Although 3D-printing is commonly associated with the rapid prototyping design process, several strong choices are available:

  • 3D-Printing. This additive prototyping process relies on sending a design into a computer-connected printing device to build the product one layer at a time. Most easily meltable materials can be used in this process, including plastic, epoxy, and even wax.
  • CNC Machining. Like 3D-printing, CNC machining relies on sending computer-generated instructions into the tools building the prototype. The differences come in two parts. First, CNC machining can use the same materials as the final product, such as metals. Second, CNC machined prototypes can be almost as good as the products rolling off of the line.
  • Molding and Casting. This process can incorporate elements of the previous two processes. Molds and casts can be cut and shaped using CNC machining. Then, these casts and molds can have layers of melted materials to create a solid part. This process typically uses urethane or silicon-based materials.

Although other rapid prototyping methods, such as powder bed fusions, do exist, these are the most common examples of processes used to build rapid prototypes. Each of these methods come with their own set of pros and cons, as well as their own best-suited set of applications.

Where in Rapid Prototyping Does Prototype Fidelity Play a Role?

Determining the fidelity in your prototype simply means that you are choosing just how accurate your model is to the final product. For example, if you were building a solar-powered lawnmower engine, your best prototyping choice would be to use a CNC machined prototype. However, for that innovative twist on left-handed scissors, 3D-printing would be a perfect choice. The levels of fidelity available to a rapid prototype model are low, medium, and high.

Describing these is fairly intuitive, with low fidelity products being rough caricatures of the final product, and high fidelity prototypes being nearly identical to the final product. It is a common practice to choose a combination of these three to develop a prototype, as you may only need one portion of the product to be a high fidelity representation, with the rest of the product built using medium or low fidelity.

Do I Need a Consultant to Help With My Rapid Prototyping Design?

Designing a product, from the birth of the idea through the completion of testing, involves a number of key pillars within the rapid prototyping process. Starting off on the right foot is critical from the start, as is building a concise set of controls and knowing what digital fabrication tools or methods are needed to get your rapid prototyping strategy off the ground. When choosing the best rapid prototyping design strategy for your project, reaching out to an experienced manufacturing consultant will get you started on the right path.

Need more answers to your rapid prototyping design questions? The engineers and design consultants at Pacific Research Laboratories work with clients to develop a rapid prototyping strategy that fits your project perfectly. To learn more about our services, please visit our contact page or call (206) 408-7603.

Mechanical vs Electrical Engineering: The Differences Explained

While the differences between most engineering disciplines are fairly obvious, misunderstandings are common when explaining the differences between mechanical vs electrical engineering. This is largely due to the similarities in the designs provided by both modalities, as well as how closely electrical and mechanical engineers work together in building projects. It becomes important then to understand the nuanced differences between these two engineering types in order to accurately build project scopes.

The differences can become even more blurry when it comes to how both work with power systems. There are a number of differences between the two types of engineering that can help you to place each type of engineer into their rightful place. Possessing this understanding will give you a better idea of project staffing requirements, as well as overall personnel expectations, and will help in building and executing a successful project plan.

Electrical Engineering Focuses on Power Generation

The short and simple way to categorize the primary specialty of an electrical engineer is power generation. They spend the majority of their time working with the installation of electrical equipment, including the design and testing of these systems. They are not limited to specific industries, and the work of an electrical engineer, or EE, can be found in any commercial application including industrial, medical, military, and science-based industries.

Electrical engineers are heavily dependent on using CAD software for developing and building the components they design. CAD software acts as a way to turn imagination into reality, giving EE’s the ability to test technical specifications and push the limits of known design thresholds to create new and more efficient ways to use power in a variety of applications. This positions them as experts in the use and creation of electrical energy and is indispensable in modernizing power efficiencies.

Electrical engineers can also be thought of as a logical link between computer engineering and mechanical engineering. Where most other types of engineering will have limited programming experience, the typical EE will have a significant amount of programming knowledge that comes into play in certain applications, in particular automation and robotics. This makes them in some ways part-time computer engineers as well.

Mechanical Engineering Focuses on Power Applications

The career of the mechanical engineer, or ME, is one that is built around molding a combination of parts and pieces into a piece of productive machinery. Like EE’s, ME’s are instrumental in the design, testing, and implementation stages of equipment. Mechanical engineers are expected to create or interpret blueprints, schematics, and technical drawings to create the best equipment fit for any particular product application of the project.

Like EE’s, ME’s are heavy users of CAD software. Often, mechanical engineers utilize the same CAD drawings that an electrical engineer has created for the further development of a powered product. Mechanical engineers are perhaps the most hands-on of all of the engineering disciplines and are heavily involved with actively testing and building use cases for powered prototypes. This includes stress testing, fabrication monitoring, and assembly.

One key difference between electrical and mechanical engineers comes in the area of support. While both types of engineers can be engaged to investigate points of failures or to further improve a product, ME’s are called to do so on a far more consistent basis, due in part to the hands-on aspect of this area of engineering. It is worth noting however that in some cases, remediation and calls for improvement will often involve the use of an electrical engineer.

Two engineers collaborate on a projectElectrical and Mechanical Engineering Are Fully Complementary

As the world pushes towards highly sustainable ways of daily living and manufacturing, the complementary nature of electrical and mechanical engineering becomes evident. Shared skill sets and advanced knowledge in design applications bridge any skills gaps. Also, both bring unique sets of data and viewpoints to the table, but a similar understanding of power systems gives them an easy ability to confer and collaborate on groundbreaking product development projects.

For example, a group of engineers is tasked with changing power characteristics on the back end, but without affecting how the user interacts with the device. The EE sits down with the ME and designs a power supply that reduces power requirements by 60%. Using these new power specifications, the ME designs new engine parts that allow the device to operate in the same way at the same horsepower but using the power requirements set by the EE.

Having both types of engineers on a power-based project leads to better solutions and greatly reduces the likelihood of troubleshooting or re-design work down the road. Using both types of engineers ensures that the engineers will confer with each other in real-time, limiting delays due to a lack of one party’s availability. This gives you a stronger product, faster, and one that comes with multiple experienced eyes to correct potential flaws and act as natural quality control checks.

Understanding the Differences Between Mechanical vs Electrical Engineering

Developing an accurate understanding of how electrical and mechanical engineers differ, and yield complement each other, will yield improved product quality results. The blending of the diverse skill sets of each engineering discipline along with the many close similarities presents your project with a complete, sustainable powered product that will bring your customers back for more.

Pacific Research Laboratories is well-versed in various aspects of engineering. We can help you bring your ideas to life through a collaborative and seamless product development process. To learn more about our services, please visit our contact page or call (206) 408-7603.

Understanding the History of 3D Printing in Medicine

3D printing is often thought of as part of the tech sector and overlooked for its incredible versatility. Taking a look at the history of 3D printing in medicine proves that it’s not something strictly relegated to the technology industry. It’s making the lives of medical providers and patients easier and it’s been doing so for much longer than most people realize.

Some types of 3D printing have been in relatively extensive use since the late 90s and early 2000s, but the actual history of 3D printing goes back much further than that. It’s a field that’s grown by leaps and bounds since its discovery, especially in medical usage. That’s because it makes medical device creation easier and simplifies treatment for people everywhere.

The Start of 3D Printing 

3D printing

While Charles Hull is generally considered the father of 3D printing, the concept of recreating models from photographs can be dated back to the 1860s. A French sculptor named François Willème developed a method of photosculpting that used pictures taken at multiple angles from 24 different cameras. He then used a pantograph engraving machine to trace these various images onto planks of wood, which he combined into a single, highly detailed structure. While 3D printing today is far more sophisticated and less labor-intensive, it follows the same basic principles as Willème’s design.

Charles Hull started the modern trend when he applied for a patent in 1984 for the world’s first stereolithography device. This process was the first to focus on turning digital data into physical objects. Separating a structure into various layers occurs using a sophisticated computer modeling program. These models are then reformed using molten plastic or other materials. While Willème’s original creation was a bit more art than science, today’s 3D printers work for everything from developing complex technology prototypes to recreating human organs down to the most minute detail. Their precision is what makes them excellent for medical use.

The History of 3D Printing in Medicine

In 1999, Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School teamed up for a unique project. A team of doctors wanted to provide replacement bladders for children born with spina bifida. The doctors developed structures for artificial bladders using collagen and synthetic polymer for seven patients, and the project was a success. However, creating this scaffolding was a time-consuming process. This gave Dr. Anthony Atala the idea to look to 3D printing to create the customized scaffold needed to support artificial organs.

Following that, Orthopedics became one of the first medical segments to make 3D printing a central part of practices. Surgeons used it to plan surgeries and in creating medical device simulations. By allowing doctors to recreate the specifics of a potential operation and practice it first, patients spent less time under anesthesia, suffered less blood loss, and saw overall better results.  Orthopedic doctors then expanded the use of this technology to leverage it in the development of artificial joints, discs, and prostheses.

The dental industry was another early adopter. Patients used to have to spend months waiting for dentures, bridges, and implants that were painstakingly made by hand. With 3D printing, providers obtained these implants faster and provided better service. It made dental work more affordable by allowing the mass production of even items that needed to be customized.

3D printing in medicine

The Future of 3D Medical Printing 

3D printing in the future could play a role in the creation of artificial organs because it allows for the recreation of incredibly complex vascular networks and systems. Using these sophisticated machines in conjunction with methods for the lab creation of biological material could eliminate organ transplant waiting lists and save countless lives. While this is still an idea in its infancy, it is one that underlines the incredible potential of these machines.

The history of 3D printing in medicine is relatively short, but it’s driving us towards a future where even the most complex medical procedures are simplified. These tools have helped physicians better understand the human body and, in some cases, also replicate complex systems. While 3D printing has helped to accelerate the growth of several industries, medicine might be the most inspirational market it has influenced.

Pacific Research Laboratories leverages 3D printing and other tools to bring unique medical projects to the market and improve training and patient care. To learn about how we can help build your idea, visit our contact page or call (206) 408-7603.