No matter the size or scope of the project, prototyping is a standard step in the product development process and has been since the early days of product design. The use of prototypes can yield a lot of benefits for the entire product development and manufacturing cycle. They can help decrease development time, accelerate the manufacturing cycle, and leave more time and opportunity to perfect your product design before official production.
The methods and materials of prototyping are quickly improving and evolving, adding more benefit to the bottom line. This desire to continue improving the prototyping process has resulted in rapid prototyping, a collection of techniques employed to efficiently fabricate a scaled model of a product or product part using three dimensional computer design.
A team of innovators at Cornell University are continuing to develop rapid prototyping to make it even more efficient. Students and faculty in the Human Computer Interaction Design Lab/Rapid Prototyping Lab are trying to make it easier for designers to reap the benefit of three-dimensional printing during the earlier design phase.
Their newest innovation is laid out in the paper “On-The-Fly Print: Incremental Printing while Modeling.” This version of the prototyping system is different because it simply makes changes to the existing prototype, rather than starting from scratch with every iteration of the prototype. According to the paper, the rapid prototyping approach “allows the user to design 3D models digitally while having a low-fidelity physical wireframe model printed in parallel. [The] software starts printing features as soon as they are created and updates the physical model as needed. Users can quickly check the design in a real usage context by removing the partial physical print from the printer and replacing it afterwards to continue printing. Digital content modification can be updated with quick physical correction using a retractable cutting blade.”
Cornell’s system is revolutionary as it makes prototyping even faster by printing a low-fidelity print instead of a solid, complete rapid prototype. This gives the user the opportunity to remove parts that don’t meet the project specifications while keeping parts that do. The software Cornell developed in conjunction with this method allows the user to make changes to the design as the object is simultaneously printed. Not only does this speed up the process, as you don’t need to create a new iteration of the prototype for every change, but it also helps reduce material consumption.
Although Cornell’s innovative new system of prototyping isn’t quite yet accessible in the product development industry, it highlights just how increasingly essential rapid prototyping can be to any successful product development project. This is why more and more companies are implementing it in their processes and it’s becoming increasingly more popular.
Rapid prototype models can be used in many ways to aid the entire product development and manufacturing cycle. Rapid prototypes provide a visual, physical model of the product or product part, which can be used for initial testing for both the client and the end customer. This helps ensure your project stays on track while keeping in line with the product specifications, goals, etc.
Rapid prototyping can help your product development project in more ways than one.
- You can be more reactive – In the world of product design and development, it’s essentially impossible to produce the perfect product on the first stab. When producing the perfect product, it’s important to be able to employ iterative testing, analysis, and refinement to assess the product’s strengths and weaknesses before you go to official production. Rapid prototyping can make the development process more flexible with more opportunity to get everything just right.
- You reduce the risk of error – No matter the nature of the product, the later in the development process you catch an issue or error, the more difficult and costly it will be to correct. Finding and fixing problems earlier in the development process can be essential to the timeline, budget, and success of your project. Rapid prototypes help industrial designers and engineers be more flexible and reactive, making more essential revisions while taking less time away from the development cycle.
- Your clients are more informed – When you can implement rapid prototypes in your development process, you can convey ideas to clients much more easily and collaborate better than when using a two dimensional drawing or computer model. Rapid prototyping provides physical examples of product parts and ideas that can help facilitate discussions that can provide insightful feedback for the developers.
Rapid prototyping can be an essential component to your product design process that can save you time and money while having the confidence your product is of utmost quality. Don’t have the capability or resources to implement rapid prototyping in your product design projects? Outsourcing components of or the entire product development project can be extremely beneficial to your bottom line – it can take away as much as 80% of management time while giving you the confidence your project is getting the attention it deserves from people with the right expertise.
At Inertia Engineering, we are committed to helping our customers realize their visions in an efficient and effective way. As a rapid prototyping company, our team has the expertise and passion necessary to analyze a project from the big picture level all the way down to the granular details. If you’re interested in learning more about how you and your business can benefit from our rapid prototyping services, give us a call today.