Rapid prototyping in its various forms has been with us for several decades, and that is due to the massive advantages it holds for just about any industry.
Anyone who has worked in any building, engineering, or technical field will immediately see the benefits, but some advantages aren’t so obvious.
So, what are the advantages of rapid prototyping?
Rapid Prototyping Advantages
Rapid prototyping has many advantages including reduced development costs and a faster product development cycle.
It also reduces the risks associated with new products or concepts because you can thoroughly test the idea’s functionality and viability before sending it for mass production.
Modern rapid prototyping is often associated with the invention of additive manufacturing technology like 3D printing, but in reality, it goes back much further.
People used cardboard and other pieces of scrap to rapidly prototype concepts almost as far back as history will allow us to see.
Even then, people could see the advantages of rapid prototyping processes.
Let’s go into those benefits in more detail.
Rapid Prototyping Saves Money During Product Development
The manufacturing process used to be slow and expensive, and engineers had to rely almost exclusively on their drawings and designs to identify potential problems with the product.
When they finally got approval to build a prototype, it was often expensive and took a lot of time to make, just to find that it had a severe flaw that wasn’t visible on the technical drawings.
Rapid prototyping changed all of this and solved multiple problems in one go.
The first of the solved issues was the cost of prototype development.
Rapid prototyping technologies allow engineers to build a scaled, and often fully working, model of their design at a fraction of the price it would usually take.
For example, 3D printing consumables are generally much cheaper than the materials manufacturers traditionally used to make prototypes.
But beyond that, the fact that the designer can see a low cost model in their own hands to identify problems early on in the designing phase could potentially save them a fortune in faulty expensively-manufactured prototypes.
These savings in development costs will eventually benefit the company’s profit margin and should also help the customer’s bank account.
Rapid Prototyping Saves Time
The name of the technology already says it all: rapid prototyping.
Traditional prototyping used to take an extremely long time to build a working prototype of a product, which often required that special moulds had to be made, and engineers had to fit machines with special equipment tailor-made for the product they were manufacturing.
In other words, engineers had to manufacture components that would help them to manufacture their new designs, even if it was only for a prototype.
This process could take weeks, months, or even years, wasting valuable time and money.
And if there was a flaw with your design? You had to start all over again.
Rapid prototyping has none of these requirements.
Simply get one or two machines and some CAD software (which you probably already had), and you’re good to go.
With 3D printing, laser cutting, and CNC technology, to name a few, we can go from designing the prototype to having a physical model of it in our hands in less than a day.
The speed at which we can manufacture functional prototypes means we can also identify design flaws early on in the process, eliminating the possibility that it would come back to bite us at a later stage when we’ve already spent months on the project.
We can immediately alter the design to fix the flaw, and then make another rapid prototype to test it.
The speed aspect of rapid prototyping (tied very closely with the cost savings) gives us the most significant advantage of rapid prototyping: we can be more productive, getting better results from the time and money we invest in product development.
Rapid Prototyping Lets You Test The Design’s Functionality
It might sound far-fetched, but there have been countless cases of people designing the perfect product and manufacturing an expensive prototype just to find that it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.
After wasting too much money and time on a product that doesn’t work, many companies were forced to give up, leaving great ideas to gather dust and be forgotten.
Rapid prototyping technologies will give you a working model of your design to see if it has the necessary functionality and to identify potential design flaws.
The model might be scaled down, depending on the size of your design. You may also have to make the different components separately, for example, by 3D printing each component on its own.
But you will have a working model of your design that you can use to test its capabilities.
As mentioned before, if you notice a flaw or a problem, making design changes and using rapid prototyping to produce a new, improved model won’t break the bank or take up too much time.
Rapid Prototyping Can Improve The Involvement Of Others
Another problem engineers often face when designing a product for their employers or clients is that stakeholders aren’t always easy to work with.
In this scenario specifically, there are two potential challenges:
- The stakeholders (paying the bill for your work) might be unable to read CAD designs and drawings. There could be a problem they can’t notice in your designs, which you don’t know about because you don’t know what you’re supposed to look out for.
- They might have miscommunicated a particular aspect of the design. Anyone working in the creative industry knows the frustration of a client who assumes you understand what they mean, so they don’t elaborate on a small (but crucial) point.
This problem becomes more and more pronounced as the design stage progresses, until you finally reach the prototyping stage, until weeks (or months) into the project, when the stakeholders see the prototype and notice the problem.
All of this can easily be avoided through the wonder that is rapid prototyping.
An often overlooked advantage of rapid prototyping is that you can quickly make a prototype early in the design stage for a lower cost, at the point where you would typically present your first design drafts to the client or board of directors.
They can hold the model in their hands and immediately make suggestions about what to change and how.
Sometimes, you can even implement the design changes there and then, in front of them, then make another rapid prototype to demonstrate it, saving even more time, money, and unnecessary frustration.
This can often be seen in the field of ergonomics or making items that are comfortable for people to use.
Various people can handle your model, allowing you to see if the product might be challenging to handle for people with smaller or larger hands, for example.
The advantage of the stakeholders immediately seeing the design in its physical form is immeasurable, and you will thank yourself later for using rapid prototyping.
As you can see, there are many rapid prototyping advantages.
The rapid prototyping process is a big part of why we are seeing so many new products entering the market in such a short time.
Companies can develop new concepts in a fraction of the time, costing a small percentage of the price.
The way that rapid prototyping avoids common mistakes and fixes flaws early on also result in us getting a more polished, perfect product at the end of the day.