Don’t Skip The Proof-of-Concept! Reduce Risk With Rapid Prototyping

Design is an iterative process that can require multiple rounds of testing and adjustments. Creating a realistic proof-of-concept with rapid prototyping is a fast, safe, and cost-effective solution for advancing parts to production quickly with less risk.  

So why do so many product designers and engineers skip the prototyping stage of the product development cycle?

In our experience, it comes down to misconceptions about saving time and money.

Topics covered in this blog:

  • Overview of rapid prototyping process
  • Common misconceptions about proof-of-concept: time and money
  • How to leverage different processes in prototyping to optimize your design, production process, and minimize risk

What is Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid prototyping is the process of using a manufacturing technique, like injection molding or 3D printing, to create a realistic proof-of-concept of an end product.

In doing so, product designers and engineers can move quickly – and accurately, from CAD to physical part or assembly to testing.

With this quality proof-of-concept they can analyze fit, form, and function in real-world testing and iterate based on its performance. Then, the optimized prototype can move to production with confidence.

Still, of all the steps in the product development process, prototyping is the one most frequently skipped.

For one, many see this as the most logical place to reduce production time and cost. And second, many product designers trust what’s been done in CAD and simulation and assume they can move right to production without validation testing.

But making these assumptions early in the product development process can result in expensive unforeseen delays later.

Proof-of-Concept Prototype

Product development process

Completing each step of the product development process helps to produce high-quality injection-molded parts. The process typically includes specific steps that build on each other to provide information for optimizing the part and process.

Creating a realistic proof-of-concept is one of the most critical steps in this process. Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) is a great first step to assessing design feasibility. However, too many engineers think 3D Printing is the end of the prototype process.

Unfortunately, for products that require large part runs that will be injection molded, skipping prototype tooling introduces significant risk into the full-scale production of the part. This is because prototype tooling supports the entire product development and launch timeline by providing valuable information for building and optimizing production tooling.

Common Misconceptions

Time and money. These are two of the most common reasons product designers choose not to create a proof-of-concept. Unfortunately, it is a misconception that this will reduce cost or speed time-to-market.

Reduce production costs

Running prototypes in-house is expensive because it requires a big upfront investment in 3D printers and injection molding machines. So, the thought process is that eliminating the prototype eliminates the need to invest. But skipping prototyping introduces risk into the production stage of the process.

Eliminating prototyping is an expensive misconception. Discovering design or process problems during production is exponentially more expensive because prototype and production tooling are not equal.

It is common knowledge that making changes during production is far more expensive and time consuming than in a proof-of-concept.

In fact, as you progress through the product development process, making changes 15x more expensive than the previous step.

Though it may seem like a logical way to save money to wait until production to make changes, it is more cost- and time-effective to make changes earlier. Taking time early to run another validation test or do a fit check will help you move to production tooling with greater confidence.

It will increase time-to-market

One of the most common misconceptions about prototyping is that it is a bottleneck in the product development cycle.

Product designers want to rely on computer simulation or use makeshift proofs-of-concept that will get them to market faster.

In reality, it’s not making the prototype that slows down the process, but rather the changes required as a result of evaluating the prototype. Therefore, it seems reasonable that eliminating the step altogether would save time.

This falsehood has negatively impacted many projects because as mentioned earlier, the further you progress in the process, the more expensive and time-consuming it is to correct issues. Using realistic proofs-of-concept to identify and correct issues early will prove more cost- and time-effective.

The Rapid Prototyping Process - Accelerating Design while Saving Money

Webinar Replay

Makeshift proof-of-concept models can be quick and dirty, but can lead to unforeseen delays down the road. In this webinar Xcentric Account Executive, Craig Johnson, discusses how realistic proofs-of-concept can help mitigate risk when moving parts to production.

WATCH NOW

Proof-of-concept options to reduce risk: 3D printing and injection molding

3D printing and injection molding are two of the most widely used manufacturing processes. Each one can be used to create a realistic proof-of-concept to evaluate your design, ensure manufacturability, and optimize the production tooling and process to mitigate risk.

Here are a few suggestions on when and how to use each process. 

3D Printing

  1. Use 3D printing to advance designs and dial in material characteristics or functionality
  2. “Simulate” the manufacturing process past CAD via physical 3D prints
  3. Use 3D printing to bridge Injection Molding for low volumes while tooling is being made

Prototype Injection Molding

  1. Use prototype injection molding to evaluate products that will require injection molding in production
  2. Use prototype injection molding to prove out your design’s manufacturability
  3. Most importantly, prototype injection molding is used to identify any tooling issues early so corrections can be incorporated into your production tooling from the start

What’s next?

Understand your part volume needs and the impact of your part complexity on downstream processes. If you are simply making a minor change to a part that has successfully been in production for a long time, maybe you can skip part of the proof-of-concept prototyping process.

However, when you are designing a new product, or making major changes to an existing project, avoid the temptation to eliminate prototyping. Doing so will only increase the risk of delays, cost increases, and project failure.

If you still have questions, whether about your part design, manufacturability, the need to include both 3D printing and prototype injection molding in the process, or anything else related to prototyping, contact an Xcentric application engineer. We’re always happy to help.

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