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Delivering Excellence in Design

Technology. Training. Service.

Physical Prototypes:
A Necessary Step or Needless Bottleneck?
A White Paper from

Building and testing physical prototypes — an expensive, time-consuming task in traditional product development — is one area that manufacturers are
critically examining to reduce overall design costs and speed time to market. Physical prototyping can be a major bottleneck, slowing down the product development process and seriously constraining the number of design alternatives that can be examined. Many manufacturers easily accept that eliminating physical prototypes equates to shorter or shortened product development cycle times. So much so, that some large well-known manufacturers saw elimination of prototypes as one of their key competitive strategies for reducing development cycles and getting products to market faster. The reality, however, is that many product development teams are still forced to include physical prototyping in the design loop to verify proper functioning and ease of assembly. Some manufacturers feel there are still valid reasons to keep physical prototypes in the design loop. They contend that using physical prototypes can help reduce manufacturing errors as well as the number of design changes, if properly planned and synchronized with the rest of the design process. Reliance on physical testing depends upon several criteria including the analysis methods used to predict product function accuracy, complexity and speed of analyses procedures, maturity of software and hardware technologies involved, and organization culture. So while the use of physical prototypes is still a necessity for many product developers, replacing more and more physical prototyping and testing with digital methods, and better coordination of physical test and measurement with digital modeling and simulation, is seen as an approach that can save millions in development costs while slashing months off product development schedules.

© 3DVision Technologies 2008


which include tolerance analysis. finite-element analysis (FEA). or customers.3DVision. computation fluid dynamics (CFD).com . While once the domain of specialists. Many product manufacturers are using physical prototypes hand in hand with simulation and analysis tools. With these types of software. vibration. simulation is a more cost-effective and repeatable option. there is still a huge reliance for many industries on the physical testing of a prototype to validate product function. but also provides engineers with a way to quickly iterate and optimize designs without worrying about delaying production schedules. What’s more. Once the simulations are completed. stress. strain. In this manner. By creating virtual assemblies of parts in a 3D CAD solid modeling systems. and force from analysis software. and electrical data are integrated back into the model. product developers can conduct analysis and simulations directly on their CAD geometry. Training. the results can be shared with supply chain partners. Being able to analyze and test designs while they still reside in the computer not only saves on prototyping costs. as well as kinematics/dynamics software. © 3DVision Technologies 2008 2 www. boundary conditions and initial conditions for simulations for analysis software. designers can test the structural integrity. and physical motion of new products. Virtual Prototyping: Honing in on Better Designs A virtual prototype is a digital model of a product that is used to test form. internal design team members.Delivering Excellence in Design Technology. flow. The ability of engineers to perform multiple “what if” iterations using simulation tools results in better products and reduced testing requirements. incorporate those suggestions back into the design. Service. thermal and flow characteristics. recent advances in physical test validation and its integration with simulation software have helped engineers significantly reduce the number of design iterations and the number of physical prototypes needed in the design process. The virtual prototype becomes more robust as all its associated conceptual. For new designs in particular. Physical tests are also used to validate or calibrate simulation results. such as pressure. While physical tests are often still required for product certification. a physical prototype is preferable to ensure that the product is built the way the designer imagined it and with the right look and feel that the customer envisioned. Physical prototype validation is often used in conjunction with simulation for defining material properties. mechanical. with today’s CAD-integrated analysis and simulation software tools. fit and function. and then rerun the simulation to ascertain the impact of those changes. A full digital prototype—with all its associated systems integrated— can be used to virtually optimize and validate a product with the aim to reduce the need to build expensive physical models. Getting Physical: When “Virtual” Won’t Cut It Despite the fact that many industries have moved to virtual prototyping to prove out design concepts and validate design decisions. engineers can quickly obtain feedback regarding changes made to the design due to simulation results. engineers can also quickly assess and resolve fit and tolerance issues using built-in interference checking and collision detection functions that are offered in most solid modeling systems.

While RP machines vary in terms of the technology used to create the physical models. but these products might not be cost-effective to manufacture. The 3D printers also usually don't require controlled working environments. It is characterized by an "additive" approach to building models/parts. Poor communication of design intent can lead to extensive changes. refers to a range of technologies that make physical objects from 3D CAD or other 3D data sources. many design intangibles simply cannot be accurately conveyed through digital representations. The materials are also expensive and many require a controlled working environment. part and assembly deformation scenarios. PR service bureaus have sprung to help manufacturers with occasional needs for physical models. many companies have adopted newer technologies that promise lower costs and faster turnaround times. which relies on photocuring resins with lasers. which has been commercially available for over 20 years. flow. which are now being sold at much lower prices. Service. RP parts force engineers to think through the manufacturing process and can result in design changes that make the final part easier and less costly to build. many companies continue to rely on the use of rapid prototyping (RP) machines. they can never substitute for senses of touch and weight.000. missed product development deadlines and can increase costs exponentially throughout each step of design and development. While designers can always simulate with nominal geometry various alignment. While more expensive RP systems are often centrally located with a dedicated staff functioning much like an in-house service bureau. Today’s solid modeling systems are capable of creating products of almost any shape and size. most start out with the stereolithography (STL) file. a file that allows the machine to slice a computer model into thin layers and enables the machine to build and stack each layer one upon another until the whole part is finished. strength. And. providing convenience and ease of use. Training. As a result. One technology used to create physical models is stereolithography. While some large organizations and service providers are still using stereolithography technology. while others use fine plastic strands that feed through a heated head. The reality is physical models of designs can go farther in answering questions such as: How do the pieces fit together? How will it be used? Does it work the way it is supposed to? Does it have the right feel? How much does it weigh? By using rapid prototypes. manufacturers can avoid mistakes down the line by identifying problems that are often too difficult to see on-screen but are obvious when examining and handling a physical part. temperature gradient. An emerging trend in rapid prototyping is the introduction of smaller 3D printers. with some costing upwards of a hundred thousand dollars. One stumbling block to widespread adoption of traditional RP machines among manufacturers has been their jaw-dropping price tags. A Wohlers Industry Report notes that a modest engineering change costing $100 in the conceptual design phase can blossom to a staggering $ . 3D printers are smaller and suitable for installation near an end user. though renderings created by today’s 3D CAD systems are very realistic. © 3DVision Technologies 2008 3 www. RP systems join a range of materials layer by layer using horizontal cross-sections of the computer model. As a result.000 by the time the product hits the market.Delivering Excellence in Design Technology. Some machines use powders that are sintered together with light or electricity. Rapid Prototyping Versus 3D Printing Rapid prototyping (RP).3DVision.

We sell and support software solutions for the design and manufacturing industries. computer aided analysis. Desktop 3D printers are also now commercially available. Training and Service. product data management and training. 3D printing is growing in usage among manufacturers. 3D printing solutions.000 mark. Service. please contact 3DVision Technologies at 1-800-745-3136. are coming out with commercial RP machines that break the sub-$10. two RP vendors. the Dimension 3D Printing Group of Stratasys This year. Our solutions include: 3D solid-modeling. Designed for workstation and network access much like a standard laser printer. Training. Currently. 3DVision is one of the original SolidWorks providers in the Great Lakes Region. For more information about rapid prototyping and how you can take advantage of this technology.000. Founded in 1995.Delivering Excellence in Design Technology. © 3DVision Technologies 2008 4 . 3DVision Technologies is a team of experienced mechanical engineers that support the visions of engineers globally. designwithVISION@3DVision. and the costs of RP technology will continue to fall. 3DVision’s goal is Delivering Excellence in Design through Technology.3DVision. 3D Systems and Desktop Factory. As new technologies emerge—in both materials and systems—one thing is for certain: manufacturers will have many more options for creating physical models. offers a line of affordable 3D printers designed specifically for the office environment with starting prices below $25.