In a globalized market where speed and affordability take precedence over almost everything else, your ability to simultaneously design and develop products will make or break your success. Prototyping is your ticket to the top, especially if your product involves overmolded parts—and this article will explain why. Here are 5 things you should know:
1. Prototyping technology has come a long way.
Historically, there were very few options for cost-effective prototyping which, in turn, also limited support for low-volume production. Due to volume requirements, prototyping at all ahead of a production run was often out of the question.
Overmolded prototypes, in particular, took weeks or even months to produce because the substrate and overmolded pieces had to be created separately and conjoined using secondary adhesives or fasteners. The end-result gave engineers a good idea of how the finished part would perform but wasn’t sophisticated enough to address all their assumptions. Furthermore, material bonding is an extremely particular science. The only way to truly evaluate the quality and performance of a part is to produce it using the actual materials and processes that will be used in final production.
However, thanks to advanced prototyping technology like PolyJet 3D printing, engineers can create a prototype of overmolded parts that involves multiple materials in a single build process within one day.
2. A prototype isn’t just for looks and feels.
Overmolded prototypes can be functional, which means they fully represent the attributes of the end-product and can be tested by users in their real-life applications to validate design and performance features. Overmolded prototypes can also be manufacturable, which means the prototype design can withstand repeated manufacturing that is time- and cost-effective to support a production schedule.
3. Overmolded prototypes don’t just address production speed and low-volume requests.
Rapid prototyping enables engineers to test overmolded designs much earlier in the development process to assess quality and performance. This early insight is the real unsung hero of prototyping. Yes, development teams who use prototyping can get their products to market faster. But more importantly, these products are thoroughly tested, which means increasing the cycle time does not compromise safety. Especially when developing products for stringent markets like medical devices, early testing eliminates costly manufacturing issues that can stunt production or prevent certification.
4. Prototyping increases the availability of low-volume production.
Previously, it was difficult to find a manufacturer who would handle an order that wasn’t hundreds of thousands of parts. Rapid prototyping is changing volume standards and making it easier for manufacturers to accept smaller orders. Now, you can order as few as 25 production-quality parts or as many as tens of thousands while keeping costs reasonable.
5. There’s more than one way to prototype.
In fact, there’s a handful of different prototyping methods; each with varying advantages and disadvantages related to speed, cost, materials and strength. The method you choose will depend on several factors, including your stage of production and your ultimate expectations for the finished product. The most common prototyping methods include:
- Stereolithography (SLA): uses 3D printing technology, a UV-curable photopolymer resin and a computer-controlled laser
- Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): involves a nylon-based powder and computer-controlled Co2 laser
- Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS): involves a laser system and atomized metal powder
- Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM): melts and re-solidifies thermoplastic resin in layers to form a product
- Multi Jet Fusion (MJF): involves heat elements that fuse agents across a bed of nylon powder to form solid layers
- PolyJet: uses a print head to spray layers of resin and cure each layer using UV light
- Injection Molding (IM): involves CNC machining that rapidly produces aluminum molds and injects it with resin at a high velocity
Keep in mind; in the wrong hands, technology can be just as problematic as it is advantageous. Prototyping is no exception. When you partner with a provider to bring prototyping into your production process, choose a skilled manufacturer with cutting-edge capabilities and a proven track record for producing overmolded prototype parts.
To learn more about how prototyping will benefit your next project, check out our free resource, Everything You Need to Know About Overmolded Cables.