Is Rapid Prototyping Right For You?

At LanPDT here in Louisiana, we often run across entrepreneurs that are confused by all the different types of prototyping such as Rapid, 3D and Machine Prototyping. If you have been in the business of building prototypes, the differences are very clear, but if you’re new to the scene a quick education can go a long way to save money and headaches.

The goal of prototypes is to prove that the form, fit and function of the product meets your specifications. Considering these factors as you move forward will get you close to your end goal of developing a prototype that is as true to the production product as possible.

So lets discuss different types of prototyping  and what they are good  for:

Rapid Prototyping: This method of prototyping is a quick and efficient way to get an idea of the form of the product but falls short of providing real feedback on fit and function. This is due to the fact that a prototype from this rapid prototype fabrication method is typically made of a plastic material that often isn’t the suitable for the final product material. For example, if you are looking to manufacture a product from aluminum, a rapid prototype may give you the initial feedback on how the product feels, but the product will not have the right tolerances with mating parts and therefore will fall short on proving anything to do with fit and function.  This will result in yet another prototyping process later on down the road. Learn more..

3D Printing: 3D printing is a process that is achieved from a digital master CAD (computer aided design) file. 3D printing is very quick when a digital file is available. The 3D printing is achieved on a materials printer. This form of prototyping is great for industrial design visualization and form but leaves many areas of production overlooked, such as tooling, tolerances, materials and functional specifications. Learn more..

Machine Prototyping: Machining your prototype from the same material you intend on using on the final product is the best bet for certain types of products. Products using multiple parts, tight tolerances, high use functions, serviceable parts and different types of materials i.e. plastic, aluminum, steel, etc.

While machining might not be the least expensive option, a machine prototype can save a lot of money in the long run by avoiding design issues. It allows the product development team to learn about the design with the proper materials early in the product development life cycle so that issues can be addressed and resolved long before mass production begins.

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