Why do I need a rapid prototype part, I’ve already seen the design on screen?

Rapid PrototypeHave you ever received your manufactured parts back, after molds have been created, and discovered that they don’t fit? Or aren’t the correct dimensions? Or maybe it’s not what you, or perhaps what your customer ‘thought’ the final part would be, based on what was communicated?

As a result of receiving a final part with an error, have you ever been faced with stress and additional expenses… without the luxury of time needed to come up with a winning solution?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions (and if you haven’t, then you might just have beaten the odds!), then you do need to have a rapid prototype (rp) of your designs to prevent these possible scenarios.

Prototypes allow you to verify, test your design for fit and function and detect costly errors before it goes to the point of having to find enough time and money to ‘fix it’.

RP parts can immediately communicate design and intent without language barriers, whether it’s to someone at your desk, your customer across the boardroom table or to a manufacturer perhaps over seas. Prototypes remove the need for guesswork.

How to compare quotes, common oversights

3D Machine ModelNot all prototypes are created equal. While each process is based on the same principals, building a part, one layer at a time, still not all RP parts are the same. Each process will use a different material, have its own way of growing or building a part, vary on layer thickness and the detail it can capture. Each method will give you a different end product with its own benefits and in some cases, disadvantages.

Be sure to keep in mind while one process may appear to be cheaper, it might not give you the type of part you really need. If that’s the case, it doesn’t make it a bargain at all if it breaks or if you have to spend money to make another one to replace it.

This is why it’s important when reviewing multiple quotes that you are also comparing ‘apples to apples’. Not only will these help you determine the best value for the money it will also help you to make sure the process you are being quoted is the type of part you need and serves its purpose.

Main check points for effective quote comparisons:

  • Are the RP processes being compared the same process? (e.g. SLS to SLS)
  • Are the parts being built at the same layer thickness (e.g. .004” to .004”)
  • Are they quoting using the same material?
  • Are they quoting in the same currency? (USD or CDN)
  • What are the shipping costs? (you need all your numbers)
  • Timing: can they deliver to meet your needs?

What do I need in order to have a rapid prototype part made?

3D PinwheelsWhether it’s a brand new invention or modification to an existing item, a 3D CAD file is needed of your design to quote or build a part. Rapid prototype technologies require specific math data (computer files) in a 3D format so that it can build exactly what your design is in a 3 dimensional format.

Ultimately, all forms of rapid prototyping will use an STL file, but the extensions of IGES and STEP are also acceptable as they can be converted by the RP house into an STL file. In some cases, a native file can be supplied and the conversion can then be made into an STL file (consult with your supplier). If you do not have a 3D file, your next step is to have the drawings drafted by a mechanical engineer or designer.