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.