Rapid Prototyping: Who Needs It? (You do!)

Prototyping is the art of building models that represent possible new products for a business to manufacture. This type of model takes a product idea out of the realm of thought and turns it into a tangible object that can be studied and used. Prototyping like this allows a company to determine how successful a product design is before heading into mass production. If a product prototype fails to serve its intended purpose, the design must be changed or the entire batch will be useless.

Companies that are in the business of creating and manufacturing a variety of products benefit from the use of rapid prototyping. Instead of creating a model out of the materials from which the final product will be constructed, designers can create a simple and quick prototype out of a basic material, such as clay or wood. Some companies even forgo tangible materials altogether, opting instead to build their models virtually on a computer.

Stereolithography (SLA) is a form of rapid prototyping that takes place by “printing” models using a vat of ultraviolet curable liquid resin and an ultraviolet laser. With an SLA prototype, instead of building a physical model of a product every time a new idea comes up, companies can create models with special plastics using designs from a 3D imaging program. By printing models instead of carving or sculpting them, company decision makers can determine whether a design idea is possible and how well that design idea suits its intended purpose.

Why Switch to Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid prototyping, whether using clay, wood or a computer program, allows manufacturers to turn out sample products more efficiently. If the first wood or clay prototype is ineffective, the company designers can rework the design and carve or mold a new model more quickly than they would be able to create a full model, using all of the materials intended for use in the final product.

With an SLA prototype, a designer can switch out a model even faster. Since the model is printed from plastic, instead of starting a new model from scratch or dismantling each model that doesn’t work to build the next prototype, a designer may simply make a few adjustments in the in the computer program and the changes will be ready in a short time. Check out this video for an overview of the process.

What Are the Potential Savings?

Perhaps the most important aspect of rapid prototyping from a business standpoint is the potential savings. Not only are wood and clay simple materials with which to work, they are inexpensive in comparison to many other types of materials. Numerous clay or wood prototypes can often be built for the same cost as one full-scale prototype. With SLA prototypes, since everything is done with plastics, it’s easier to refine and recreate prototypes.

If your company designs and manufactures products, you should never go straight from the plans to the manufacturing line. It’s essential to get some idea of how well your product design works through rapid prototyping. Wood, clay and 3D printing provide inexpensive, quick options for creating prototypes of your product ideas. Through rapid prototyping, you can save your company both money and time.