For design teams seeking custom engineering solutions, rapid prototyping tools are non-negotiable. Designing prototypes could mean the difference actually developing a product and a pipe dream. But not all rapid prototyping tools are the same.
There are certain features the best rapid prototyping tools share. They include:
The time it takes to make your prototype, how well it interacts with components, and how close it will be to your actual product all matter. Interactive prototypes that are high quality is what you’re after.
The best tool for designers must be fail-safe and allow you to pivot fast. If it’s not the marketplace will outpace you. Time is money. Here’s how some of the latest rapid prototyping tools and technologies are reshaping product engineering.
3D CAD Software
3D Computer Animated Design is one of the rapid prototyping tools that has completely altered the way manufacturers and engineers support product development teams. The software enables designers to conceptualize a 3D image of a product design. This allows engineers to assess the design before production. It also allows for fine tuning (if needed), saving product developers time, money and resources.
The most obvious of the rapid prototyping tools worth highlighting is 3D printing. It continues to evolve and improve in terms of accessibility and functionality. 3D printing involves three popular technologies for execution:
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
The production material (typically a plastic, nylon, or epoxy resin) is fed through a heated printer nozzle. As the material passes through, it melts into a semi-liquid. The semi-liquid is then extracted onto the printing bed. Layer after layer, a 3D object emerges.
Uses a light source to convert a liquid material into solid parts. An ultraviolet laser strikes the top layer of liquid resin. This “cures” the liquid into a solid.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
Uses powdered material instead of solid or liquid. The powdered material is heated to a temperature just below the melting point and scanned using a laser that fuses the powder together to create a solid layer.
Tangible products aren’t the only thing that can be rapidly prototyped. Thanks to computer-aided technology (similar to CAD), designers and engineers can actually simulate the plastics injection molding process and eliminate assumptions about filling patterns, part features, cycle times and possible defects. From short-shot prediction and clamp force calculations to mold shrinkage outputs, the insights users can glean from this software has a dramatic effect on manufacturing cost and time to market.
As if these rapid prototyping tools and technologies aren’t impressive enough, many of them “play well” together to simplify the design process even more. This optimizes overarching processes and refines accuracy down to a pinpoint.
There are rapid prototyping tools to fit all needs. From interactive and animated to web based designs that allow you to drag and drop with little or no learning curve. The user experience you’re looking for is out there, you just have to find it. Well guess what? You just did.
As a product developer, it is mission critical that you partner with engineers and manufacturers who can offer these advantages. Having a finished product in one or two weeks instead of months will get you to market leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. Check out this case study to learn in detail how rapid prototyping is the key to success in today’s market.