Rapid prototyping, 3D printing and injection molding combined can perform wonders for your production processes
Before a manufacturer can release a product in the market or even begin production, planning is paramount. Before you can assemble say a car, the first thing you need is to come up with the design before you can worry about functionality. You require a visual concept to pitch to stakeholders or your workmates so they can see what you are thinking about. The easiest way, of course, is a drawing, but you need a three-dimensional object to validate your idea. All you need is a prototype. Prototyping is a broad topic, and people mistake it for a single unit on the production processes. Others assume they do not have enough time for prototyping. Prototyping will help you optimize your production process and offset risk during assembly.
So, why is prototyping vital in production processes?
Prototyping is meant to assist you during actual production. Since you will be working on the design and functionality of prototypes, assembling will be much easier since you are familiar with the whole process. You already know the challenges you expect and how to deal with them to ensure that your final product is fit for use. Look at the automotive industry, the quality and functionality of a car dictate whether you will live or die once you step in it. A fault in the engine of a van carrying six people can either lead to death or severe injury. If you manage to escape unharmed, you will live in fear of boarding a car and sometimes can cause trauma or shock.
To ensure these incidents do not occur, car parts undergo testing to validate quality and functionality. This is where prototyping comes to play. There are different types of prototypes, all serving a specific purpose. Some prototypes visualize your idea and hold no functionality. You can quickly whip them in the lab using a 3D printer, CNC machines or plastic injection. Other prototypes are used to test and enhance the functionality of parts to be used in assembly plants. You can make a prototype and release it into the market to get customer feedback and adjust your design to suit your customer needs. Testing and making these prototypes sounds like a lot of work and time.
In a fast-paced market, you need to optimize your production process to reduce lead time. With technology, we created rapid prototyping to reduce the amount of time used in the prototyping process and get more time to focus on actual production. Rapid tooling entails the use of moulds or tooling that requires less time to make to speed up prototype making. A common thing about rapid tooling is the use of lower quality materials for tool making a design for short runs.
The nature of the plastic industry completely contradicts production processes. Regular injection molding takes up a lot of time; you can wait up to 2 months to get your parts. This unacceptable in the market, so manufacturers opt to used rapid tooling coupled with low volume manufacturing. Together, these two techniques can save you a lot of time and money.
It is worth noting that there is a difference between rapid prototyping and 3D printing. However, they all have the same concept of additive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing, as opposed to subtractive manufacturing, is cost-efficient since there is less waste production. Although CNC machines are required in the process, machining does not work OK with rapid prototyping. 3D printers are used to make polyjet molds which are fast and cheaper than using hardened steel.
Aluminium is also used since it is relatively affordable and easily accessible. Back in the 90s manufacturers used plastic injection molding as part of rapid tooling. Considering the state of technology back then, the process was quite fast. Currently, we are adopting complicated tech,, which has helped us optimize our production process.
We expect to see the integration of artificial intelligence is CNC machining, making prototype machining a worthy competitor. It is not a surprise for manufacturers to encounter customers with strict deadlines, yet they expect branding and packaging to be done by the manufacturers as to if they do not have enough on their plates. Since it is business, manufacturers must find ways to adapt to these conditions.
In any production process, hitches and failures are sometimes inevitable. To ensure that your operation runs smoothly, especially in rapid tooling, there is a measure you should put. The tooling used in rapid prototyping should be heat resistant since you are injecting melted plastic into the molds you do not want them to deform. Although rapid tooling is meant for short cycles, they should still be long-lasting to handle the cycle you have designated. If you wish to mold to run for 100 times, it should be able to serve you throughout the cycle with minimal hitches. You working staff should understand the whole process and have the necessary skill to run the machines.
Low volume injection molding in a way resembles rapid prototype tooling except that low volume manufacturing is used as a bridging tool between prototyping and mass production. Rapid prototyping will give you a chance to test the market and compile data to help you in marketing. Testing and validation are fast, and you will have more time for mass production. Rapid prototyping allows you to make iteration on the design easily, especially when coupled with low volume production. It also offset investment risks when outsourcing your rapid prototype project.
Plastic prototypes are best made through injection molding since some plastics pose properties that make them hard to machine. Polycarbonate, for example, is flexible so you cannot machine it. Plastics generally have low melting points making them easy to melt and inject into cavities. Since the injection is done at high pressures, dimensional accuracy is not an issue. Rapid prototyping also works with casting and some traditional production methods. In a nutshell, the difference between regular prototyping and rapid prototyping is speed and cost.