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perspectivejan 7/14/05 6:44 AM Page 47


Rapid, Efficient and
Easy Prototyping

It is too bad that the technology new product launch can cause users to overlook many
of the more important and more advantageous
and industry are saddled with such a outcomes from rapid prototyping.
Rapid Prototyping Is Much More than Speed
limiting name. “Rapid” prototyping By the very nature of the additive processes, rapid
prototyping offers unprecedented gains. How else can
focuses all attention on speed. It leads you receive prototypes with the same ease and
efficiency? What other technologies minimize the labor
companies to view the technology in and effort required to prototype? What other processes
are so accessible to the design and engineering team?
terms of only time reduction and time-to- What technologies can you name that break the
shackles imposed by the constraints of milling,
market improvement. Although these are molding, casting or forming? Rapid prototyping is a
unique process that offers unmatched benefits.
important, and speed is critical, the term However, to realize all of these benefits, you need to
look beyond the speed of the additive process. For a
rapid prototyping can blind us to all moment, forget “rapid.” Instead, think easy, efficient,
accessible and possible. When you do, the opportuni-
of the advantages and the virtually ties and gains that present themselves will multiply.
Rapid prototyping spans the entire design process,
endless opportunities. and the technology extends into tooling and manufac-
turing. From the initial product concept to production
and assembly, rapid prototyping yields benefits that go
far beyond speed. To illustrate this point, you need
only consider the most basic application, concept
modeling. If there are advantages beyond speed in
by todd grimm
concept modeling—a process that by its very nature
hinges upon rapid change—there have to be many
OCUSING ON THE RAPID NATURE OF other advantages as the new product progresses from

F the machines is like putting on blinders.
This limits the scope of potential benefits
and makes justification much more
difficult. If the application of the
technology is rationalized only on time savings, it is
easy to justify staying status quo. Even if successfully
justified, the drive to save time on a prototype part or
concept to design and manufacturing.
Concept modeling, often associated with 3D
printers, is the earliest design phase where ideas,
concepts and innovations are brainstormed. This
process is highly iterative, and as such, the design is
fluid. Concept modeling is to product development as
brainstorming is to business strategy. Time-Compression Technologies ■ January/February 2005 47

the difference between the first and last were obvious.perspectivejan 7/14/05 6:44 AM Page 48 perspectives | rapid effect The following examples of rapid prototyping for concept dozen iterations were laid side by side. rapid proto- design and prototype innovative . molding and casting. assume that rapid prototyping’s primary benefit is reducing time- to-market. Instead. one manufacturer would produce one. the tooling review is conducted rapidly and without delay. the manufacturer does not seek to reduce One manufacturer found that it could eliminate much of its CNC time-to-market. many measured in megabytes. The work is also more typing offers the advantage of self-service operation. one manufacturer enjoys the advantage of changing the process. Inevitably. Instead of preparing tool paths. labor reduction decreases labor cost and time. The questions ceased when a 48 Time-Compression Technologies ■ January/February 2005 www. but they An electronics manufacturer subcontracts its tooling to Asia. The barrier to more concept models was not time. Now this company’s early design Footwear process stipulates production of as many concept models as In the fast-paced market for athletic footwear. management questioned the practice. Toys Tied to market cycles. spent more time doing what it loved. While there was little modeling illustrate that the biggest benefit is not speed. Having removed resistance. Once again. the package design team now starts its nothing to do with speed. for as little as $20. of enjoyable since they no longer shoulder the burden of catching up course. The speed of being one of the last efforts before product launch. Although this decreased prototype time and made the same amount of time. (Edgewood. Multiple files. and ships them to the tooling liaison. When a rapid prototype is made porous. It is a tool that minimizes resource demands and themselves from the critical path. physical models of its earliest concepts. the company simply prints an additional mail at tgrimm@tagrimm. Unlike milling. better information arises from the review of the prototype. Inc.” These are not as catchy as rapid prototyping. the company uses the speed and efficiency machining of finely detailed prototypes with its new rapid proto- of rapid prototyping to squeeze in many more design revisions in typing system. and the model shop more responsive. have realized. this assumption is incorrect. the team now exports an STL and prints the Rapid prototyping has found a niche in prototype vacuum job. designing parts. What was once a barrier to the high-value design work is now forming. TCT its tooling liaison. and this leads to lower tooling cost and less tool rework. Conclusion Prior to rapid prototyping. gathering stock. Equally important are the aspects of rapid prototyping that have Using rapid prototyping. Electronics Prior to rapid prototyping. And. More importantly. KY) at (859) 331-5340 or via e- With rapid prototyping. rapid prototyping can produce the most complex designs to the product schedule. For one manufacturer. team. set of components. Unconvinced of the value of the effort. However. fixturing and Packaging running the CNC mill. For more information please contact Todd Grimm at TA Grimm took time to download and more time to open and review. It was resources. are much more descriptive of the true value of the technology. rapid prototyping changes the process. they now have more time to individual effort. Prior to rapid prototyping. the company produces upwards of a dozen concept models for its newest designs. difference between sequential iterations. the real gain was that its team this leads to increase product Rapid prototyping is the path of least work while product design is still ongoing. many would possible. As easy as opening the box. the additive process is key to the gains that each of these companies upstream processes would eat into the leadtime for package design. While the of a few buttons. They questioned the expense of the prototypes and wondered if time was being wasted. More revisions lead to better designs. without consideration for how they will be fabricated. the resulting tool a non-event.timecompress. “Efficient and Easy Prototyping” or “Do More with Less Tooling Prototyping. maybe two. and Associates. instead it is This led to time crunches and pressures on the package design what the speed allows them to do. With rapid prototyping. Ease and accessibility allow prototyping with the click eliminates the time and labor for drilling vent holes. package design had the burden of Yes. it would e-mail electronic documents to Think beyond speed to realize the full power of the technology. the true benefit is not speed. speed is a part of each of these applications.