Why Rapid Prototyping Manufacturing Is an Important Step in New Product Development

Demonstration of rapid prototyping manufacturing in action

The companies of today now more than ever must rapidly get new and emerging products to market to remain competitive. Streamlining the product development process helps to quickly put new ideas into the hands of consumers, but testing remains a prohibitive limiter. The use of rapid prototyping manufacturing works to quicken the testing process and gives you the ability to improve its marketability and post-sales support.

Why Rapid Prototyping Manufacturing?

Rapid prototyping is a form of a prototype that is created with speed to represent a potential product visually, functionally, or a combination of both. Rapid prototyping manufacturing uses multiple techniques to quickly create a prototype to the satisfaction of a product development team. These techniques include additive techniques, such as 3D printing, or subtractive ones, such as CNC machining, with the goal and selection of these techniques being fully dependent on product requirements.

The use of rapid prototyping has been growing in manufacturing applications and offers a cost-effective way to save time and cut costs while maintaining quality. Concept models or visualizations to fully functional devices are all possible using one, or a mixture of, the available rapid prototyping methods now available. There are three additional advantages offered by rapid prototyping manufacturing that will help to more effectively drive product development to the finish line.

Demonstration of rapid prototyping manufacturing in action

Advantage 1: Speed Means Cost Savings Without Sacrificing Quality

As the use of the word “rapid” indicates, speed is of the essence when using a rapid prototyping manufacturing strategy. But unlike the prototyping of the past, today’s digital technology and CAD computing power can deliver a quick turnaround on prototypes without the risk of losing any accuracy or performance attributes of the product. There are several built-in attributes to the rapid prototyping process that lend high-tech touches to the building of these prototypes:

  • Modern CAD software provides simulation of designs in 3D before prototypes are built.
  • CAD designs can be electronically transmitted directly into rapid prototyping machinery. 
  • Automated checks are performed during the prototype’s creation to keep accuracy at near-flawless levels.
  • The digital-based nature of the design process streamlines communications for rapid adjustments.

The use of rapid prototyping manufacturing adds next-gen levels of precision to the testing process. This allows product developers to create complex designs without having to worry about not being able to bring the design from screen to reality. The wide variety of rapid prototyping options means there are multiple potential solutions to every prototype, with some resulting prototypes being good enough to be sold to the customer as-is.

Advantage 2: Rapid Prototyping Applications Are Expansive

Rapid prototypes provide many options for the examination and testing of a product. They can be used in any stage of the project and for any reason, including:

  • Concept models. These prototype options give designers and project planners the chance to validate the design and desired product specifications. These can be used as marketing tools for the development of a marketing strategy or to present status to stakeholders.
  • Functional prototypes. A functional prototype takes concept models to the next level through its accurate representation of what the final product will look like. This application of rapid prototyping allows designers and engineers to validate product functionality and to give them another shot at correcting the product’s shortfalls.
  • Strength of material testing. The rapid prototype is a perfect place to perform product stress testing. Doing so gives you a fast, inexpensive way to establish product performance thresholds. In turn, this data can be used to create changes in the products used, as well as to establish operational limitations for warranty and support purposes.

Rapid prototype manufacturing makes it possible to engage in multiple prototyping applications at a minimum cost or time investment. Materials used in these prototypes come with few limitations, and the ability to create working representations of a design may allow for some prototypes to be instantly shelf-ready.

Advantage 3: The Use of Rapid Prototypes Will Streamline Development

Rapid prototypes give developers the ability to quickly create a prototype regardless of the proof of concept model they seek. This capability allows product development teams to reap large benefits when using rapid prototyping manufacturing to bring a product design to life. Development becomes even more efficient when supportive 3D CAD software is being used, which enables teams to communicate quickly and to establish a productive collaborative team structure.

Maximizing the benefits of rapid prototyping manufacturing starts with shortened and agile design timelines. But instead of relying on the limited lessons learned by your team, a good practice is to leverage a wider range of skills provided by an experienced and local manufacturing partner. They can look at your project and quickly align it to the most innovative of product development steps, making the rapid prototypes you produce more effective.

The team at Pacific Research Laboratories implements a collaborative and seamless flow of information so that your project remains agile and stays on track. This way, you can be assured of getting a strong product to market faster than the competition. To learn more about our services, please visit our contact page or call (206) 408-7603.

Key Product Development Steps to Give You the Most Marketable Prototype

A prototype being demonstrated as a part of product development steps.

Marketing is the most critical juncture in the lifespan of a fresh product design. It translates the innovations and features it presents to the world from tech-speak to customer-speak, making the voice of your product an effective one. It is also why getting the product development steps you use correct from the start is so important. These steps set the tone for the design and testing process and will be instrumental in driving your product to succeed in the marketplace.

Concept Creation: More Than Just an Idea

A prototype being demonstrated as a part of product development steps.

If you are reading this, it is safe to assume that you already have a product concept in mind. As exciting as you and your project team may be about this idea, the foundation of a successful product is much more than an idea—it is an encouragement of collaboration. The definition and documentation of tasks that will ultimately work together with the idea to drive it towards success. Completing the conceptual foundation of your project can be accomplished in just a few easy steps:

  1. Establish a well-defined process for communication and documentation. Addressing the way in which your project team communicates adds agility to any project. 
  2. Encourage collaboration, which builds team morale and becomes enjoyable when following the defined communication plan. 
  3. Empower staff to make the necessary adjustments to the process will cement the concept and drive it forward.

Goal Setting: What Prototype Would Best Fit Your Vision?

You will now be able to take your well-defined process and documentation structure and apply this to set goals around the prototype. The prototype for your product will provide a valuable service as both a marketing tool and testing platform, which makes choosing the most suitable prototype to represent your design the next step, even ahead of building the actual design itself. Taking this path will serve to shorten design and testing timelines and help to maximize its sales potential.

Addressing the goals and purpose of the prototype provides a clear roadmap that designers, testers, and marketers can use to develop forward-thinking strategies. Some of the items to address include: 

  • The overall functionality of the prototype
  • Whether or not to bring it to life physically
  • The methodology used to produce the prototype

Whether it be a CAD-simulated prototype, or a rapid prototype using 3D printing or CNC machining, your prototype will be assured to drive the success of the final product.

Design: Mixing High-Tech Tools and Old School Thinking

Design can be fickle, especially if the product you are creating is a completely new innovation. But even new products will contain some similarities to existing ones, which can lend a time-saving helping hand. The help offered by reviewing similar products becomes even more potent when the manufacturing partner you anticipate using to produce your creation offers in-house design services, as they may already have design specs on hand to help guide you through the design process.

The recycled tech approach of using pieces from past projects to implement into a new design will be strengthened through the use of modern CAD design tools. These tools allow specs to be quickly adjusted as the product takes shape, offering a real-time glimpse into how every design attribute affects the final design outcome. This reduces re-work after testing and can be utilized to build powerful and informative prototypes for testing and marketing.

Validation: How Your Prototype Will Launch the Product

Creating a prototype based on design specs will be your primary tool for validating its concept and performance. The results of these performance validations will tell you how close the product comes to meeting expectations, and where on the market it will really fall when compared to similar products. The inputs received during this process will provide the information needed to finalize your product’s development.

This helps you to further develop two of the last steps needed prior to releasing the product to the final production stage: 

  • Engineers will use the test results to build a support model, including warranty terms, any spare part requirements, and user manuals to ensure that the product is properly utilized. 
  • Meanwhile, those on the marketing team will be using the prototype for advertising media, in-person or virtual demonstrations, and other marketing collateral to help drive sales and profits upward.

Inclusive Product Development Steps Lead to Successful Products

The ultimate goal in the back of every creator’s mind is how to get the product in front of its target audience. There are several steps that should be executed during the product development process to ensure that the product meets functional expectations while maximizing its sales potential. One last important step is the selection of a manufacturing partner—one that not only can make your product but can also lend a helping hand every step of the way.

The designers and engineers at Pacific Research Laboratories are excited to work with partners whose products will make the impact they desire. We work with our clients to collaborate on design, testing, and final production, and we specialize in machining and molding small plastic parts. To learn more about our services, please visit our contact page or call (206) 408-7603.

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.

Why CNC for Rapid Prototyping Can Get Your Product To Market Faster

The importance of creating a viable prototype from a design schematic has been long established in manufacturing. However, options for prototyping remained largely limited until the explosion of viable 3D printing technology over the past decade. The increased use of 3D printing in manufacturing applications has led many to wonder why they should consider any other type of prototyping to demonstrate new product capabilities.

Although lacking the glamour of 3D-printing, CNC rapid prototyping is a quality, trusted option when a prototype must be created. And although 3D-printed prototypes do present design teams with a different array of benefits, there are many scenarios in which there is no substitution for quality, CNC-machined part. Not only can these be produced just as fast as 3D-printed parts, but CNC prototypes can have the same strength and quality as the anticipated full-production product.

What Is the CNC Machining Process?

CNC machining is a manufacturing process that creates parts by utilizing inputted computer parameters to control machining tools. The primary benefit of CNC machining is that materials that are harder to manipulate can be cut and crafted to create a product that falls easily within designed tolerances. This minimizes the reliance on quality control since once a CNC machine has its instructions and has been properly calibrated, it can accurately repeat the production process.

The process for CNC machining starts in the same way as other common types of prototyping, like 3D-printing. Building a product using 3D-CAD software and simulation tools is a must, requiring that the CAD-operator and the software being used are at the peak of their game. All steps must be aligned to best practice design fabrication processes and the specific instructions required by CNC machinery, such as drills or lathes.

But unlike 3D-printing, CNC machining is a subtractive process, which means that the required components are cut out of the required materials. At a glance, this may seem wasteful, but when a properly planned design is in place, the CNC operator can select a block of material that best fits the specifications in the design. The ability of a CNC machine to build components out of the same materials as your final product presents you with the capability to have a fully functional prototype.

How Do CNC Machining Strengths Align with Rapid Prototyping?

The strengths of CNC machining—high accuracy and speed, ideal material strengths, and computer-assisted controls—align with the rapid prototyping process on all levels. Like 3D-printing, CNC machining has a low-labor footprint and minimizes the effects of process variations as a result of its ability to take its guidance directly from the product’s design specifications. But the places where CNC machining stands out in rapid prototyping is something that a 3D-printing just cannot yet accomplish.

CNC machines produce prototypes at a much faster rate than other prototyping methods, often using the same materials as the final product. This allows for improved performance accuracy during testing and demonstrations, as well as the ability to utilize prototypes for post-sale support training or models for solving defects. These, and the ability to easily make size reductions in components, make CNC-built prototypes ideal candidates for generating rapid prototypes.

Although only indirectly related to rapid prototyping, the building of molds and casting models using CNC machining should be considered here as well. The ability to guide CNC machines using CAD-defined measurements to build strong and unchanging castings or molds gives CNC machining another notch in the prototyping win column. This allows material pours or base outlines for other prototyping methods to be quickly built with the same high level of accuracy as in the production of parts and components.

Where Do the Advantages of CNC Rapid Prototyping Stand Apart from the Others?

The criticisms of using CNC machining in rapid prototyping quickly fall off the tongue: it is more costly than 3D-printing and can contribute to the wasteful use of materials. Also, CNC machining cannot achieve the same highly complex internal geometric structures that additive prototyping methods can accomplish. But taking a step back to see that CNC machining is not used for prototypes in these categories and that most material scraps are recycled will make it easier for you to see the benefits.

The quality, consistency, and trueness of the final product are what make CNC machined prototypes stand out. Any prototype that needs to demonstrate a close or exact operational match to the final project is a perfect fit for CNC machining. A prototype that needs to be created quickly from a digital CAD drawing out of the same materials as will be used in its final product is a perfect fit for CNC machining.

Determining the best rapid prototyping solution for your project is a crucial step before moving to final production. Engaging a manufacturing consultant that specializes in getting manufacturing projects off the ground will allow you to see the benefits offered by CNC machining to your particular project. And, even if CNC machining turns out to not be a perfect fit for you, your manufacturing partner will help identify the best prototyping solution for you.

Pacific Research Laboratories consultants can contribute a wide breadth of design and prototyping knowledge to your project. Using this input, you will be able to make the tough choices about what prototyping tool is best for your vision, and how your prototype can be used to get your product to market faster. To learn more about our services, please visit our contact page or call (206) 408-7603.

3 Stages of Product Development for New Products

employees plot product development on whiteboard

You have an idea—and it’s a good one. Encouraged by the feedback of your initial designs, you dove into marketing research, which revealed a potential demand for this idea. The viability of selling your product, and its potential to be easily produced, means it’s time to bring your project from the dream world and into the realm of possibility. But where to start? What are the specific stages of the product development process that require a high degree of focus over the others?

The most important stages of product development apply to any product and encompass all aspects of the product creation process. Every manufacturing project must go through the same three core stages in order to move from thought to shelf. However, each of these brings along slightly different nuances that must be broken out in further detail to ensure that the product of your dreams will be a success in reality.

Stage 1: Design

employees plot product development on whiteboard

The design stage is arguably the most important of the three stages of product development. It is during this stage that the foundation for what the product can do and deliver will be determined. It is also during this stage that any concept flaws will be brought to light, giving the project team the chance to change or end its further development path. There are a few aspects of the design process that will help you ensure that your product design is airtight:

✔ Design specifications and features are truly innovative and are different enough from similar products to stand apart and above.

✔ The product proves to be useful when CAD-based calculations and simulations enter the mix.

✔ Your product can retain pleasing aesthetics and overall usability within the desired dimensions without sacrificing operability.

Having a perfectly created digital rendering that revolves around these core design principles will accomplish more than pushing your product forward into the next stage. A concisely developed CAD design will save you valuable time in the testing phases of your project and will make getting the specifications of your product to the manufacturer simpler. This shortens the time between concept and production, which is an invaluable asset when trying to take the lead in the marketplace.

Prepare for Success

Designing a successful product starts with having qualified and capable designers in the CAD driver’s seat. Even if you have designers in-house, it is always smart to cover all of your bases by engaging a manufacturing consultant that can provide outside design input. They will likely have experience in projects similar to yours and will become an indispensable tool in your efforts to bring your product to market.

Stage 2: Test

Having a completed and proven design in your pocket allows you to shift your focus onto testing all of your product’s moving pieces. A digital representation of your product is a quick way to simulate many of its functions and to gain feedback on its aesthetics and usability. But digital models cannot demonstrate some real-world applications, nor can they replicate the tactile features of its buttons, switches, or the product itself.

Creating a physical prototype for testing purposes can be accomplished at a far lesser cost than you may have thought possible. 3D printing has changed how modern prototyping works, which means that you could have a physical, functioning representation of your vision in quick order. This allows your project team to put the product through its paces, and to send any defects back to the designers before it reaches the production line.

Prepare for Success

There are some cases in which digital simulations of a design just cannot be used as a substitute for a real, hands-on product experience. Partnering with a manufacturing consultant that can offer your project access to rapid prototyping is a game-changer. In addition to also bringing along design and manufacturing experience, they also bring rich collaboration and cutting-edge methods.

Stage 3: Produce

At some point in the design and testing process, the time will come to determine whether or not your product is ready to be manufactured. At this point of the project, you are likely very confident that the time has arrived. However, there are other considerations in play here besides issuing a “ready or not” status, and unless you take the time to get these aligned to your marketing and distribution plans, you may find yourself failing to meet expectations.

Determining the scale of manufacturing you desire for making your product depends on multiple variables. For example, if you are relatively unknown in your industry, or if your product has the potential to become outdated soon after launch, it would be wise to consider a short production run. Even if you feel that your product has longevity written all over it, taking your time and ramping up production can be the difference between nimble production and a full warehouse of widgets.

Prepare for Success

Taking your product from drawing board to production planning board may, unsurprisingly, come with some bumps in the road. Taking advantage of short-run manufacturing can help to alleviate any anxiety related to the production of your product, especially when you select a manufacturing partner that has built its foundation on helping projects like yours succeed in this way. A partner such as this can offer you cutting-edge short-run production tools that keep the manufacturing of your product slim and nimble.

Align the Stages of Product Development to Your Own Projects

It is not surprising that many projects fail to get their feet off the ground when they stray from these core principles. A great asset to any new product team is the ability to harness the eyes of an outside party that is experienced enough to see what you may be missing. It is also why seeking design and production advice from an experienced expert can have a beneficial impact on your project.

Pacific Research Laboratories designers and engineers are passionate about helping businesses get their new products into the waiting hands of customers. We work with you as a partner, offering a wide range of manufacturing and design services so that we can be your one-stop-shop for product success. To learn more about our services, please visit our contact page or call (206) 408-7603.

Do You Need a Prototype for a Patent?

Product design workflow illustrating the answer to do you need a prototype for a patent?

The ideas you have are already worth solid gold in your mind. With an eye on innovation, you have conducted thorough research to ensure that your vision will succeed in the market. With a well-crafted design model conceived, the logical next step is to protect your intellectual property by obtaining a patent. But is a design and specifications enough to get a patent, or do you need a prototype for a patent application?

The U.S. Patent Office (USPO) states that it does not require applicants to submit a prototype. However, producing a prototype, especially a working prototype, has many advantages. In addition to demonstrating a more authentic representation of your idea, a patent will provide some regulatory and business benefits. These benefits will give you a higher level of legal protections from competitors while expanding the field of potential investors,

Building a Prototype Increases the Chances of Patent Approval

Product design workflow illustrating the answer to do you need a prototype for a patent?

For the sake of time and meeting project deliverables, it will be tempting to skip the project’s prototyping phase and secure a patent faster. This error is common and may elongate the time it takes for your patent to be processed. Without a prototype your design may fail to separate itself from similar patented ideas, forcing you either back to square one or, worse, to watch your plans succeed with a party that better represented the same idea.

The patent process requires you to submit as much detail as possible about the product in question. Patent law requires submitters to ensure that their application is detailed enough so that an industry expert could recreate your product using the details in your patent application. An excellent way to accomplish this with meticulous detail is to submit a working prototype along with any design details and specifications that go into the build.

Submitting a prototype with your patent application will provide proof of concept for your idea and give a patent examiner a concrete way to validate the specifications and functionalities you have provided. A prototype will reduce the financial or competitive risks associated with re-submitting a patent application or providing additional clarifications.

Are There Reasons for Patenting or Not Patenting?

A prototype helps determine whether or not to patent your idea. Using a prototype for patent purposes gives you the ability to perform a self-examination to assess your design’s viability. After evaluating if a patent is deemed a requirement, you will shorten your application process by having an interactive object to submit along with your application.

Some scenarios would qualify the patent process as an inefficient endeavor. For example, if there are already many similar products on the market, pursuing a patent may not be cost-effective. Also, patent filings are a very time-consuming process and, given the current three-year backlog at the U.S. Patent Office, may mean that your idea could be obsolete before it appears before an examiner.

Pursuing a patent for a unique design concept and is intended for distribution to even just a small audience is highly recommended. Protecting your intellectual property is only one piece of the puzzle. Starting the patent process will also protect your design and manufacturing partnerships from business and legal challenges. This insurance will grant your design team and investors peace of mind as your project steps closer to production-ready.

When is The Best Time to Pursue A Patent?

The adage, “timing is everything,” is especially true for patent filings. File too soon, and your application will likely be incomplete. File too late, and you run the risk that another party jumps in front of you with a very similar idea that leads to your application being denied. The balance lies somewhere in between, and there is no concrete answer that fits all cases. To find the right timing, you’ll need to dive a little deeper into your industry to choose the best patent timing.

The best time to pursue a patent should start with the drawing up of a conceptual design. This timing provides a protective measure for your initial idea and gives you space to invest in honing your product’s capabilities. Once your product has further matured in the development process, you can move to file a second application using the new design details in your product. It would be in this second filing that you would submit your prototype of choice.

This form of patent filing, while offering the most protection, will be more expensive. In addition to paying more filing fees, legal fees may contribute to costs. The next best option is to submit a patent application when you have a 3D, CAD-based prototype ready to go. This added definition will give your application more traction with an examiner and ensure that your design was appropriately vetted.

So Do You Need a Prototype for a Patent?

Although submitting a prototype with a patent application is not a requirement, it can improve approval chances. Your prototype can fully demonstrate your product’s capabilities when submitted as a part of a patent application. The expert advice of a manufacturing services provider will give you a prototype that fully expresses your idea and will be ready for the eyes of patent examiners and investors alike. 

Pacific Research Laboratories can work with you on a production-grade prototype for your patent application. Our engineering and design teams are ready to collaborate and facilitate your manufacturing goals from start to finish. To learn more about our services, please visit our contact page or call (206) 408-7603.