Rapid Prototyping

by Jon M Quigley
When we have a short project schedule, we need to learn from our prototype as quickly as possible. Rapid prototyping is a rational approach to a shorten schedule that does not come at the risk or cost level of skipping prototypes or starting the next level of prototype before we have learned from the previous prototype as we discussed in an earlier blog.

Rapid prototyping is possible when we have access to equipment that enables us to deliver a useable product within a few days. With the advent and improvements in three-dimensional printers (including the dropping of costs) we now see the ability SLA (stereo lithographic) parts quickly with relatively cost. Prototype parts are different from models in that we are able to conduct tests upon prototype parts. This provides us with the feedback or learning we have been writing in the previous blogs. Some things are easier to prototype than others, below is a brief list of the possibilities:
1. Printed circuit boards
2. Plastic parts via soft tool injection molded (for low volumes – 5,000 pieces or less)
3. Mechanical pars injection via soft tool injection molded (for low volumes – 5,000 pieces or less)

For example, the tools available for developing printed circuit boards have improved greatly over the years. Gone are the days from wire wrapping a “perforated-board” to produce a prototype although this technique works and could be performed relatively quickly. Today we have more sophisticated tools that reduce the human error and are even quicker to deliver the prototype part.  There are computer controlled etching for example, and some organizations have manufacturing pick-and-place equipment set up to solely address prototyping demands.

The ability to exercise or test the prototype parts has a great impact upon the future product development activities. The sooner we start working with prototypes, the sooner we are able to learn about the product and improve the design. We should learn much from these early parts and not wait until the last minute when the project is running out of options and launch is eminent.

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2 Responses to Rapid Prototyping

  1. David White

    Prototypes serve many purposes, it might be summerized in the phrase “form, fit, and function”. These have to considered in two domains: mechanical and electrical/electronic.
    I may not have these terms correctly defined, but please allow the following definitions for an electronic component:
    Form: the way the component is received at the plant.
    Fit: the way the component interfaces with other components or how well they connect in the system.
    Function: How well the component operates electronically in the system.
    Circuit board manufacture can be relatively quick, but the design is as much art as science. The biggest issue with circuit boards is there ability to overcome EMC issues. You don’t want your favorite radio station to be washed out because your electronic controller radiating at the same frequency. On the other hand, you don’t want your controller stopped because of a police radar gun. Sometimes these issues occur or can be fixed at the vehicle with wire- harness routing and/or shielding.

    My experience tells me the functional part can be developed initially with virtual tools ( computers that simulate the system).
    From this you can determine the parts you need for the circuit board, the circuit board size, and possible dimensions for the component.

    From a different perspective, and in an automotive environment, every component engineer is fighting for part of the same real estate and you argue over millemeters (with clearance). CAD tools allow for virtual construction which allows for an almost unlimited amount if combinations and permutations.

    In the middle of these conflicts is ensuring that all the components go together. In many cases, these components also need to be taken apart and replaced. CAD also allows for these components to be analyzed virtually in the system.

    There is no question rapid prototyping speeds the process. RP in mind works best when the changes/improvements are focused and limited to a sub-system. In many instances, there are multiple sub-system changes that seem independent, but have impacts functionally or mechanically.