It is not uncommon for manufacturers to source cost conscious prototype development options overseas or through a fast prototyping service. The challenge with these choices is that they may not provide the level of quality to ensure successful end-use production. Working closely with a design engineer that keeps manufacturing intent in mind, and with the appropriate in-house resources to make necessary alterations, will provide a faster time to market turnaround and meet production demands.
Here are 3 reasons why a cheap prototype solution may not ultimately meet your development and production needs:
Design Validation: All manufacturers have a specific need and desired outcome for their prototype development experience. Quality, cost and speed to market are generally common questions and areas of concern. While these factors are important, findings obtained throughout the process are critical when approaching the design validation and production stages. Unfortunately, when a rapid prototype service is used, not much information regarding the part is documented or shared. Additionally, critical features may be out of tolerance, assemblies don’t go together very well and the parts are made in a like material, rather than your specified material. All of the variables specified add up and convolute your next and most important step, which is production tooling. A full-service prototype design resource will make your parts to print, with your exact material while mimicking the production tooling water scheme. Completed prototype parts can be used to conduct real-life testing which will provide assurance that what you have learned from the process can be directly applied to production tooling.
Upfront Engineering: Prototype tooling can be dangerous in regards to how the mold is made. If only 100 parts are needed for testing, a lot of tooling short cuts can be made that will affect your part outcome. Your prototype design partner should look at your prototype part from a robust tooling perspective and work with you to make your part a tooling-friendly design. The prototype design and development tooling approach should be the same as what will ultimately be the same approach as a production tool. This process is essential to guarantee a seamless transition to a multi-cavity tool.
Material Selection: When a prototype is developed with a like-material, the outcome is a like-part. The part may warp differently, flex differently, snap differently and so on. This is an especially critical factor when testing the function of an assembly. In the testing process, correct material selection is just as important as hitting your critical dimensions. Cutting costs in the prototype development process may require the use of a like material when an exact material is intended to be used in the field.
A prototype can be very important in the development of a new product, offering a fast tooling solution for producing parts for fit & function testing. Prototypes also offer the advantage of testing the molding process with the production material, so any process or material design flaws are discovered early on, saving time and money. Working with a quality prototype design and development partner will ensure the quality of your part and alignment your design and production specifications.