Prototyping is a critical aspect of the new product development process as it allows designers to experiment with different product design ideas to help make informed product decisions. There are a few different methods to make a prototype, but the most widely used method is 3D printing. 3D printing can rapidly create high quality products. There is no tooling required so small batches of unique prototypes can be made very cost effectively. There are several steps in the prototype manufacturing process including ideation, sketching, product design, material selection and, finally, prototype manufacturing.
1) Decide What To Make
It sounds basic but the first step to make a prototype is to identify a problem or current user frustration that would need a product solution to solve. Building a prototype for a product that doesn’t solve a user problem is not likely to lead to a successful launch, so it is critical to always start with the intended user when manufacturing prototypes. Once a real user frustration has been identified, creative product solutions need to be brainstormed. The creative solutions can then be screened based on technical feasibility and how closely it matches the user’s problem. The chosen ideas then need to be developed and iterated upon until they are formulated into a compelling marketable product idea.
2) Draw A Sketch
Once a compelling marketable product has been developed, it is important to get the idea on paper. The sketch diagram should show a rough outline of how the product will function and what it will do. Putting the idea on paper will both help you with your own conceptualization and will help with the transition to the product design phase.
3) Design The Product
Utilizing the sketch diagram, the CAD model now needs to be created. The CAD model is a 3D computer model that contains dimensions, parameters, and the relationships between components. It is critical for the prototype manufacturing process because the 3D CAD model will be directly used by the 3D printer to build the prototype. CAD designs can either be created in house or using a design service. CAD modelling requires intimate knowledge of the software interface, engineering principles, and various manufacturing methods. Learning a CAD program requires diligence, patience, and much trial and error. If you are not familiar with using CAD software, it is likely going to be much easier to simply hire an expert that can quickly and easily provide you with a high-quality design.
Designing for manufacturability, functionality and aesthetics is crucial for product designs. It is much easier to make a prototype when the product has been designed for 3D printing and can seamlessly transition from digital model to physical product. Building concept model prototypes during the product design stage can also be beneficial when deciding on key features and tolerances as components can be experimented with and further modified.
4) Decide On The Material
The next step of the prototype manufacturing process is deciding on the material. There are many options when it comes to 3D printing material and the material selected will depend on the functional and aesthetic requirements of the part. Strength, toughness, impact resistance, and heat resistance are common considerations when choosing a material. Additionally, environmental exposure to water and UV rays should also be considered. For more information on 3D printing materials, check out our Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing Materials.
For prototypes that are intended to only be used as visual aid concept models, a cheaper material with less high-performance characteristics can be chosen. Multiple concept model prototype iterations can be built when choosing amongst multiple product designs. Likewise, it is also beneficial to build a prototype several times using different materials so that each material can be tested in the intended application.
5) Upload CAD Model To Print
Once a compelling product idea has been formulated, the CAD design has been created, and the material has been chosen, the design can be uploaded on ZABFAB’s instant quote page and ordered online. Once your file is uploaded online, we will manufacture your prototypes and ship them directly to your door.
Need help ordering your prototype? Contact us and we can help guide you through the process. In addition to 3D printed prototypes, ZABFAB also offers 3D design services and on-demand manufacturing. We are here to help you with the entire product lifecycle from idea formulation, to designing, prototyping, and on-demand manufacturing with 3D printing!