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Engineer holding an example of digital fabrication.

Digital Fabrication Modeling: Visually Sell Your Product Before It’s Built

Specs look fine on paper, but when it comes to product proposals, nothing beats a fine-tuned, digital representation. Like any new tool, much confusion still exists around what digital fabrication means as a manufacturing process. This agile manufacturing process possesses a range of benefits that makes it an ideal choice for creating visual models or product prototypes. The drawbacks to digital fabrication, such as steep software learning curves or the limited production volumes, are easily outweighed by the numerous advantages.

How Do Digital Fabrication and Digital Fabrication Modeling Differ?

Before you can examine digital fabrication modeling it is important to understand the differences between it and digital fabrication in general. While interdependent on one another, the key difference between digital fabrication and digital fabrication modeling can be best described as physical vs. virtual. Digital fabrication is the production of a prototype from the use of digital modeling, which uses computer inputs to create highly accurate prototypes of a product.

Digital fabrication modeling allows designers and engineers to work out the finer details of appearance and specs in a material free, pre-production, environment. The advantage this provides is that product performances, potential materials, and other specifications can all be tested via computer simulation. This gives product designers the advantage of working out potential issues in all of the product aspects without incurring the costs of materials or machining.

Using digital fabrication modeling as a fundamental design task ensures that when the product enters the prototyping phase, it will meet or exceed customer expectations without incurring additional costs or time delays. The implementation of CAD modeling into your existing manufacturing processes, including precise software model configurations, may require some outside expertise to guarantee the best results in your quest to create a vivid representation of customer specifications.

Engineer holding an example of digital fabrication.

Using Advanced CAD-Design to Produce Lasting Product Imagery

CAD software is the primary support pillar for digital fabrication modeling and can help you figure out the best manufacturing methods ahead of time. The CAD software used must be powerful and flexible enough so that your products can be accurately designed to spec. In addition to their well-noted design capabilities, advanced CAD software gives you an efficient way to bring products to life on a digital platform, and in a way that can be leveraged to produce physical products down the line.

The primary benefit of using a CAD software environment is its ability to generate idealized virtual representations of your products. Possessing the abilities and associated tools of virtual product proofing present your project team with more collaborative options that are not limited by physicality. In other words, team members across the globe interact with virtualized projects, both accelerating the process and getting more eyes on your products.

A well-designed CAD software environment, supported with collaboration, builds better products. By monitoring every detail with a team, project costs and material waste are reduced, as is the need for physical product resources when you are ready to manufacture prototypes. Finalizing the virtual representation of your product can be elevated further when there is an expert engineer at the helm.

Understand Your Digital Fabrication Options for Prototypes

Examining the talking points behind each of the primary manufacturing methods for prototypes may not seem to belong in any virtual modeling discussion. However, excluding these points would be a costly mistake. Keeping these options in mind during the design and modeling process will increase the chances of success for prototypes. Carefully considering each manufacturing method early in the project prepares you for the challenge of transforming a virtual product into a physical one.

Each of these three key prototyping processes presents its limitations in the physical world; limitations that can be addressed during the design phases so your products can move forward unimpeded.

  • 3D Printing: Also known as additive manufacturing, is a process in which product specs are imported from a CAD design and then created out of layers of the specified material. While growing in popularity, 3D printing is expensive and has finite size limitations.
  • CNC Machining: This common form of digital fabrication is perhaps the most cost-effective and most versatile to use with digital fabrication modeling. More types of materials can be used, and it easily translates CAD specifications into its Cartesian coordinate system for better accuracy. It can take longer to produce a working prototype and fine detail limitations.
  • Laser Cutting: Utilizing laser cutting is likely the least expensive of the three but can be the most labor-intensive, making it more prone to errors in translating virtual products into physical ones. Material types are just as robust as with CNC machining, except that materials must be thin and layered, making it time-consuming and less than ideal for working prototypes.

When making the transition from a virtual to a physical product, it may be beneficial to seek out an engineering service provider that can present you with all of these manufacturing options and more. An outside engineering consultant will have multiple, proven prototyping technologies already in place, and can help smooth the lines of communication through the encouragement of a collaborative approach to manufacturing.

Is Digital Fabrication Right for You?

Digital fabrication is perhaps the most mysterious of the many manufacturing fabrication options available today. But it can be the most productive and cost-saving fabrication option if your design processes are fully aligned, backed up by powerful CAD technology, and a project team that encourages collaboration. Getting to this point can be a challenge, but not if you have a group of expert engineers standing by to lend their experience and manufacturing expertise to your projects.

Configuring and operating a digital fabrication modeling process is what our engineers at Pacific Research Laboratories are waiting to do for you. We provide a team of experts that collaborates with your product design team to rapidly build virtual quality designs that seamlessly transition into physical, well-crafted, products. To learn more about our services, please visit our contact page or call (206) 408-7603.