What is needed to build prototypes, and problems we have encountered.

question-mark-funny-faceDuring the course of a year, there are always many inventors and companies that contact us for prototype creation.

Some have paper napkin sketches and want a new product engineered and prototyped, or a 3D version printed. Others may have products that are already engineered and they want us to build a prototype. Let’s go over the latest scenario, since many have questions about what is needed to build a prototype. Also, we will cover some of the difficulties that a prototype builder can be faced with.

The major things we encounter are the following:

  1. No 3D CAD files available. Today, most manufacturing methods need 3D CAD files. These are 3 dimensional representations of the product design, and are used for 3D printing. 3D CAD files are also used for machining and mold making. Remember that before you engage a consultant for your product design, make sure you own all the designs generated including 3D CAD files. We have, on occasion, come across inventors that do not have the 3D files, and come to find out that they didn’t pay the designer. That is also a sure way to not get the files you need.
  2. The parts cannot be manufactured as designed. Yes, when you design products, you need to know what manufacturing method to use for mass production, and that is long before you even start designing. For example, a machined parts in aluminum would have a completely different design than if it would have been injection molded in plastic. Also, some parts might be too thin and flimsy, whereas other may be too thick for a particular manufacturing method.
  3. The product looks beautiful… on the outside… even in product development, beauty is only skin deep. We have encountered some really beautiful designs that cannot be assembled since they did not have screw holes and no mounting features on the inside for internal components. Therefore, essentially, only half of the product was designed, the outside. In this case, we asked the engineer, who actually had many years of experience, how he intended to assemble the product for production. The response was that it was up to a prototyping company to figure out… Although we have no problems fixing designs, we felt bad for the inventor who believed that his product was finished and ready for production. Make sure that you hire an engineer that designs products that can be made.
  4. Parts do not fit together. Every time you make a product, the dimensions will not be exact due to manufacturing tolerances, so the design needs to account for those variations. Sometimes, we see simple mistakes like trying to put a 0.5″ pin into a 0.5″ hole, which will not work even it if was made exactly to specifications. In this case, the pin needs to be pressed in to the hole with force, or you change the tolerance so that the hole is larger and the pin is smaller and it will slip in just fine.
  5. The use of non-standard parts. We have recently seen frames that are supposed to be telescopic with very tight bend radius (read impossible) in non-standard sizes. To be able to prototype to specifications, extrusion tools have to be purchased (expensive if you just want to make one), or the parts have to be redesigned for manufacturing. It is also common to use non-standard screws and uncommon thread. When you design products, make sure you can find a company that sell the parts and check if they have the particular part in stock. If you can’t find the parts during the design process, you will probably not find them when you go into production either.
  6. Almost anything can be 3D printed, even though it cannot be made with any other process. Again, it common for us to have a client that says that the prototype works fine, but they cannot get any quotes from a manufacturer because the design is not manufacturable. We can typically change those parts using the principles of design for manufacturability.

If you have any questions, please contact at us and we would be happy to assist you.

Contact us to learn more: www.phi2.com or +1.904.646.5666