Some rapid prototype parts can be produced in just three days or less. However, when you reflect on their limitations, it’s best to take a few factors into consideration to be sure it is the best prototype part option for you. Layered prototypes may be an exact geometric representation of your CAD model, but created by a completely different process than your production parts. This is one of the most important considerations when keeping your end goal in mind for your product launch. Here are a few other reasons why a production-quality prototype may be worth waiting for:
Comparative Strength and Finish:
Prototypes that will be used for functional testing should mirror the same performance characteristics of the intended production part. If they will be used in market testing or for marketing the product prior to launch, proper finish of the intended production part should be a feature of the prototype as well.
Molded plastic prototypes are often compared to layered rapid prototypes. But because every part is different, it is difficult to know the exact qualitative and quantitative variances. That said, 3D printed parts are not as strong as traditionally manufactured parts. With injection molding, the part possesses even strength across every angle and material structure is consistent throughout. Additionally, material finish options are limited in most layered rapid prototyping scenarios. If your part requires a specific finish that aids the functionality of the desired production part, the design is not compromised and finishing options increase greatly when selecting an injection molded prototype process.
Many manufacturers find that while layered prototyping may have a place in the development process, it is not suitable for most functional testing of production parts. Injection molded parts are produced with not only more strength, but accuracy in regard to the intended finished production part. With more room for tweaks, adjustments and significant changes in the design and development process, the end result will be greater efficiencies later in the process. Quality documentation that can be recorded and saved throughout the lifespan of the part is another added benefit that will prove valuable down the line.
In some cases, quality plastic prototypes may have a greater upfront cost, but will level out in the long run when quality, functionality and the absence of compromises is taken into consideration. Even with a slightly greater time and financial commitment up front, critical design efficiencies will allow for a quicker time to market.
For prototype parts that you can work with, learn from, test, measure, and fall in love with, molded parts that are a true representation of your high volume production molds are the best option for you. While we all know building a mold and developing an optimized injection molding process is a longer progression than additive manufacturing, there are ways to speed up a single cavity mold build.
The proprietary Modular Tooling System offered by the ERC can produce molded parts in just a few weeks. When comparing the amount of knowledge and time gained with a single cavity molded part for a product launch, quality and functionality are well worth waiting for.