Rapid Prototyping Design Requirements: Top Questions Answered

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.