Rapid Prototyping – Think Through Doing

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Rapid Prototyping – Think Through Doing

We are always seeking “the faster.” Yes, the faster, not the fastest because we firmly believe there is always the next-level of something more significant. For product makers and entrepreneurs like you, quicker turnaround time and shorter and successful development process are entirely on the top of your list. Consequently, more and more rapid prototyping techniques have been developed. Also, an increasing amount of people are looking into rapid prototyping methods.

Rapid Prototyping is a set of methods.

Yes. Rapid Prototyping contains multiple methods that could quickly prototype a product. These techniques usually rely on 3D Computer Aided Design (CAD) data to finish the prototype. Technologies like 3D Printing, Stereo Lithography (STL), and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) are among the most famous rapid prototyping methods.

What does rapid prototyping bring to you?

Rapid prototyping provides the quickest way for not only engineers but also investors and customers to experience the product. It’s not hard to understand. A real product you can hand to your potential investors and customers weighs much more than pieces of paper and slides of your presentation. The engagement and concreteness the prototype brings to people should never be underestimated.

Also, rapid prototyping encourages your team to improve it through doing it and putting the idea into the test of the real world and pinpoint issues faster and more precisely. This probably explains why in a Marshmallow Challenge, kindergarteners outperformed Executives, Directors and business school graduates. We are used to spending three months planning before executing. It makes sense to do so, but sometimes we ignore the power of learning through doing it.

rapid prototyping, 3d printing

How could rapid prototyping possibly affect the product development process?

To answer this question, let’s first take a minute to understand the purposes of prototyping. Tom Chi, co-founder of the Google X pointed out that the overarching goal of prototyping is to “maximize the rate of learning by minimizing the time to try ideas.” More specifically, first, a product prototype can help your team to test the idea in a real-world setting. A physical product will provide a whole new perspective for your team. Staring at paper and screens for hours, even days will not likely do.

Second, product prototypes make it possible for you to evaluate whether the design meets all the requirements or not. Some of them can be very subtle, and this is when things are getting tricky. You might never be able to identify them unless you hold the product in your hand.

Third, there is no denying that certain improvements are not as necessary as we thought. Prototyping your product provides a direct look into each of them you have made so that you have a better idea regarding the necessity of them.

Last but not least, you can use the prototype for customers and investors to feedback. Why would you rely on pictures when you can have the real thing?

rapid prototyping, product development

With traditional prototyping methods, you will have to spend at least 2 weeks, in general, to get your product prototyped. However, it happens within one day using rapid prototyping now. A faster pace of prototyping helps you save time. So you can spend more time on perfecting the product, preparing for the tradeshows or practicing your elevator pitch.

Before you Google the nearest prototyping factory…

Rapid prototyping has a lot of advantages and is hyped up now. However, here are a few things you might want to think about before jumping on the train.

1. Understand the end uses of your prototype(s)

Various end uses can significantly affect your choices of the technologies applied, the material used and the build options set, etc. Make sure you are perfectly aware of how you are going to use the prototype(s) before you contact your prototyping factory.

2. Refine your STL or CAD file(s)

Your prototypes will be directly “printed” out of machines according to your STL or CAD files. Any mistakes you made in those files are going to be the mistakes on your prototypes. You don’t want to pay for your own mistakes.

3. Do your research

There is an enormous number of things you could learn about the rapid prototyping technologies in general. If you don’t have the time, hand it to a professional. If you are willing to get your hands dirty, we encourage you to read a little bit about it every day. Here are two aspects to potentially start with,

  • Learn about the machine accuracy

Not necessarily each machine, but the ones on your list. Chances are the geometry of your product might be too accurate for some machines, or the other way around. Either situation is likely to cause deflections.

  • Learn about the pros and cons of every available technique

Like the two sides of a coin, all the rapid prototyping technologies have strengths and weaknesses. It is your responsibility to learn. Nobody expects you to master them, but at least, you shouldn’t be completely clueless about it.

prototyping, 3d printing

4. Get ready, financially.

It’s true that rapid prototyping is quick and direct. It is also true that you will likely to spend some money on it. Plan it out in advance and spend it wisely. Of course, if money is not a problem at all, some companies own 3D printing machines. Just make sure to think twice before you place the order.     

The biggest advantage of rapid prototyping is to help you save time from traditional prototyping. You have more time to think through doing. Have you tried rapid prototyping already? How was your experience, a “wow” or “nuh”? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.