Delivering results to your clients rapidly is essential to being successful in business. This is especially true in the world of manufacturing when failing to deliver a new part or new piece of technology may result in a competitor delivering their product to market before you.
With the rise of new manufacturing techniques and computer-assisted design, rapid prototyping is becoming a more cost-effective way to develop and test new parts and equipment than ever before. As alluring as rapid prototyping might be, however, there are some pitfalls to it as well. As with any other tool, there is a time and a place for rapid prototyping. Understanding when that time and place might be is critical to ensuring the success of your business.
The most obvious advantage of rapid prototyping is speed. You can have a part designed, shipped, and tested within a reduced timeframe, allowing you to quickly determine if that part meets your needs or not. If the prototype meets your needs, then you are done and can put the time saved towards tackling other problems that may crop up. If your prototype is a dud, then you have not wasted as much time as you would with more thorough processes.
Another advantage is cost as compared with other forms of prototyping. Since you are dealing with low volumes, you are not spending as much as you would on the final production model. As before, this allows you to perform necessary testing and make sure your prototype is effective while minimizing your financial risk. This helps keep things under budget, and can even allow you to put saved money towards other aspects of the project if the prototype turns out to be a success.
Another advantage that largely depends on your business model is the client or superior feedback. With CAD software that is involved in rapid prototyping, you can send prototype designs to clients or superiors before an investment in prototype construction is made. This can also allow one to spread the final design around and get feedback from multiple sources.
Note that depending on how quickly you need your prototype created, this might not be an option, and if you need rapid prototyping to be completed it is unlikely you’ll have time for a thorough QC process.
Although multiple eyes can view the prototype design, quality control is still a major pitfall of rapid prototyping. Whether you do your prototyping in-house or outsource, what is created is still created to specification. When time is an issue, quality control is, unfortunately, the first to go.
This can lead to a poor design making it to the prototyping stage when a more thorough vetting would have axed it in the design phase. In a smaller scale project, the costs of this failure can generally be absorbed, though, in a more complex project where months of work come down to the effectiveness of one or two parts, rapid prototyping can hurt your bottom line.
Rapid prototyping technology also limits your options. While a wide array of options are available in terms of manufacturing techniques, one cannot rapidly create a prototype with many moving parts intended to interlock and work together. As such, complicated projects should not be subject to rapid prototyping, while simple parts and designs are perfect for the process.
Know Your Needs
Deciding whether to engage in rapid prototyping ultimately depends on the needs of your business. Some companies will find themselves suffering more from rapid prototyping than they hope to gain in cost and time savings. However, for most manufacturers, the rapid prototyping process and technologies available today can be a boon, especially with the rise of out-of-house rapid prototyping companies like Plethora. Once you have a solid understanding of what you need, the decision becomes rather straightforward.