Why Your Business Needs a Better Way to Prototype
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It’s virtually impossible to overstate the value of an accurate prototype. When you create a scale or life-size model of a development-stage product, you’re not simply producing physical collateral that might someday sit in your company museum. You’re completing a crucial step in the troubleshooting process and reducing the likelihood of a critical error that derails your quest to produce a marketable product.
6 Technologies and Techniques for Better Results
The value of prototyping is all but self-evident. The only question left: what’s the most effective prototyping process? These six are all likely to improve on what you’re doing right now.
1. Vacuum Casting
Vacuum casting is a mold-based process that typically utilizes silicone substrate. It’s an ideal prototyping method for relatively simple parts as well as components with fine details that need to be represented accurately during the R&D stage. The main drawback is the relatively high cost of the equipment necessary to achieve quality vacuum molds, but this is surmountable via partnerships with third-party prototyping partners.
2. Fused Deposition Modeling
FDM 3D printing technology, or fused deposition modeling, is a dynamic process that produces durable, heat- and stress-resistant products. If you’d like to demonstrate your prototype’s real-world capabilities, or at least provide an accurate representation of what your customers can expect from the finished product, FDM could be the right fit.
3. Selective Laser Sintering
SLS, or selective laser sintering, is a high-tech process that uses energetic lasers to sinter and bind powdered materials into cohesive solids. SLS is appropriate for a wide range of applications; one particularly valuable use involves nesting, wherein items produced using this technique are fused together to form complex, intricate models that can’t be created from a single block or plane of material.
Stereolithography, or SLA, uses a UV laser to create 3D models from photopolymer resins capable of forming complex geometries and structures. Since the process may require structural supports to hold the emerging model, it can be a bit cumbersome. As with vacuum casting, any logistical hurdles are surmountable with the help of a capable third-party partner.
5. Paper Modeling
This decidedly low-tech prototyping technique is far more versatile than it sounds. In the right hands, paper models can be incredibly intricate and lifelike. They’re also lightweight. Unfortunately, they’re not as portable as heavier, sturdier models created through 3D printing techniques. And paper modeling may not be appropriate at all for especially complex prototypes that require multiple axes to construct faithfully.
6. Lego Modeling
Don’t laugh. Lego modeling is a fantastic option for budget-conscious prototypers that care more about realizing a rough shape or scale than representing intricate parts in fine detail. Think of Lego modeling as a physical whiteboarding exercise; end-users never have to see what you’re iterating in the comfort of your lab.
How’s Your Prototyping Game?
After this, hopefully it’s much improved.
But successfully putting together a lifelike prototype isn’t the endpoint of your research and development process. It’s merely another milestone on the road to something marketable. If you haven’t already done so, make a checklist of all the things you need to do before pushing your product live — and, while you’re at it, a list of “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” that may trip you up before you’re through.
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