Companies have created product prototypes for years. After all, it’s the only way in which they can see if their concept will work or not. Obviously, the cycle of creating prototypes, getting feedback, and making improvements takes a lot of time and effort. Hence, rapid prototyping costs was a major expense for many businesses.
Fortunately, the materials used in production, the technology, and the methods to create prototypes have evolved significantly in recent times. Now, rapid prototyping makes it possible for them to develop and fabricate prototypes faster than ever before.
This, in turn, allows them to test their prototypes and get feedback faster, while also saving them money in the process. Ultimately, for consumers, this leads to better products.
In this post, we’ll look at rapid prototyping in more detail and show you how it can help you save cost in the long run.
Rapid Prototyping Overview
Rapid prototyping is the process of fabricating a scale model of a part or parts using computer-aided design (CAD). With this process, you can turn an idea into a proof of concept. But it doesn’t stop there, though. From your proof of concept, you’ll also be able to fabricate prototypes that look and work like the final product and take your product to mass production.
Considering the above, it’s easy to see that rapid prototyping could offer you various benefits. Some of the most common benefits of rapid prototyping include:
- One of the first benefits is that you’ll be able to see how your product will look and how it will work. Apart from this, it also allows you to make changes or improvements to your product early on in the design and manufacturing process. In turn, this saves you a lot of time and money and eliminates the situation where you need to make changes later on when it costs more.
- Because the process is largely automated, you’ll be able to manufacture a prototype of your product with less staff. Also, because it uses computer-aided design, it doesn’t require special tools to manufacture the prototype and leads to more precision, with the result that you waste less material.
- By using rapid prototyping you’ll be able to take ideas to proofs of concept quicker. In this way, you’ll be able to quickly see whether an idea will work or not. This also makes it easier to present new concepts to clients or investors. This is simply because, by seeing a prototype, they’ll be able to understand the concept easier. In turn, you’ll get valuable feedback which makes the development of the product a lot easier.
- With the feedback you get and the results you’ll see during the rapid prototyping process, you’ll be able to test and refine your designs. As a result, you’ll be able to reduce or eliminate design flaws that can be very costly to fix later on in the manufacturing process.
Ultimately, rapid prototyping can save you a lot of money and allows you to design products quickly and efficiently.
Factors Affecting Price
So, how much does rapid prototyping cost? Well, it can cost anything from $100 to thousands of dollars. So, before looking at how you can save money with rapid prototyping, let’s look at the typical factors that affect the price of a prototype.
One of the first decisions you’ll typically need to make when you want to manufacture a prototype is what material you’ll use. This decision can be quite complicated because there are literally thousands of different plastic resins or metal alloys that you can choose from, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.
These materials all come in at different price points. For example, for CNC machining, the material can make up almost 30 to 40% of the total manufacturing costs. In contrast, 3D printing prototype costs with plastics can be a lot cheaper. Ultimately, because the material is a substantial part of the rapid prototyping costs, it’s one of the key factors you need to consider before the manufacturing process.
Fortunately, it’s also one of the parts of the manufacturing process that’s easiest to control and estimate. This is simply because, in many cases, the prices for raw materials are easy to find and, especially in the case of metals, based on a fixed price per weight no matter where you buy them from.
The process you use will also have a significant impact on the costs of manufacturing a prototype. Here, you’ll typically need to decide between the two most common processes, additive manufacturing and subtractive manufacturing.
As the name suggests, additive manufacturing requires that you add materials to the process during manufacturing. The most popular form of additive manufacturing is 3D printing. In contrast, subtractive manufacturing requires that you remove material during the manufacturing process. A typical example of subtractive manufacturing is CNC machining.
Subtractive manufacturing often has the advantage of lower setup costs and producing prototypes that require little or no processing after production. This makes it a good rapid prototyping tool. However, it could lead to higher production costs because it often has high material waste. Also, when manufacturing complex parts, it requires many processes to get the desired result.
Additive manufacturing has no tooling costs and, most of the time, has quicker turnaround times than subtractive manufacturing. Typically, it also has the advantage of lower material costs and doesn’t suffer the same disadvantages as subtractive manufacturing when it comes to manufacturing complex parts.
Considering the above, the type of process you choose, although largely dictated by the type of material you’ll use in manufacturing, will have an impact on your overall production costs.
Another aspect that can have a substantial impact on prototyping costs is design complexity. This simply relates to how sophisticated the part you want to produce is and how many steps and processes you’ll require to achieve the final design.
Typically, the more complex your prototype is, the more it will cost to produce. This is because complex parts will, generally, require more steps and processes. These steps and processes require additional tooling, setup, and testing as well as more manual labor which all add to the total costs.
So, where possible, it’s always best to keep designs as simple as possible. Not only will this allow you to keep manufacturing costs down but also makes manufacturing easier, faster, and reduces the possibility of mistakes.
Another aspect of design where cost is important is the accuracy and precision of manufacturing. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, there is an important difference between them. Accuracy refers to how close the measurements of the final product are to that of the design. In turn, precision refers to the ability to achieve the required accuracy constantly.
Generally, the higher the accuracy and precision, the more time and effort it will take. As a result, the production costs will be higher.
Finishing is typically the final part of the manufacturing process and, depending on your needs and requirements, can give your prototypes a more beautiful and durable feel. As you can imagine, the finish of a part can have a significant impact on its cost.
So, for instance, you can choose from a variety of finishes like polished, sprayed, satin-finished, sandblasted, silkscreened, laser engraved, and more. Each of these differs in the amount of time it takes to do and, as a result, affects the cost differently.
For example, when you want to polish your part, it takes a lot longer than just leaving it “as milled”. As a result, it will also cost a lot more. In fact, for larger polished prototypes, finishing can contribute up to 30% of the total manufacturing cost.
Last but not least, quantity plays an important role in the overall cost of prototyping. This is simply because the price of the tooling needed to manufacture a prototype stays the same no matter how many parts you manufacture. To illustrate this, let’s look at an example.
Let’s say you want to manufacture a prototype and the tooling required to do so will cost you $1000. Now, let’s imagine that the materials for one prototype will cost you $100. So, if we do the math, the prototype will cost you $1100. If we then assume that you want to manufacture 10 prototypes, the total cost will be $2000. As a result, one prototype will cost you $200.
As you can see, increasing the volume of production is a good way to optimize the initial expense for tooling. It goes further than this, though. When you increase the volume, you’re also able to optimize your production process, maximize the process’s efficiency, and keep waste to a minimum. This, in turn, allows you to save even more.
How To Save on the Costs of Rapid Prototyping
Now that you’ve seen the main factors that impact rapid prototyping cost, let’s look at some ways in which you can reduce the costs of rapid prototyping.
1. Choose the Right Machinery and Materials
The first way to save money during the rapid prototyping process is to use the right machinery and materials. To do this, you’ll typically need to consider your goals with the prototype.
For example, if you only need a basic model to demonstrate the proof of concept your equipment requirements will differ significantly from the situation where you need a prototype that works and looks like the real product. Also, for a basic model, you probably wouldn’t need materials that are specifically designed for high-quality finishes and intricate details.
So, when you know the goal for your prototype, you’ll be able to choose the right machinery and materials based on your specific needs and requirements.
2. Proper Scheduling
Let’s face it, the more efficient you are, the more costs you save. When rapid prototyping, there are a few ways to up your efficiency. You could, for instance, fabricate smaller parts during the day. Because they typically take less time to fabricate, you can then complete a few during the day.
You can then schedule the fabrication of larger parts to run overnight. You can even consider batching multiple parts into one build. In this way, you’ll ensure that you’re as efficient as possible and increase your output significantly.
3. Automate Post-Processing
As mentioned earlier, finishing can have a significant impact on costs and can take a lot of time and effort. While some technologies produce parts that require less post-processing than others, you’ll typically have to do some form of post-processing on all parts.
With that in mind, it makes sense to consider automating parts of the post-processing process. In this way, you’ll be able to save money and time.
4. Use Multiple Parts for Larger Parts
Typically, larger parts take longer and cost more to fabricate. It, therefore, makes sense to break larger parts up into smaller parts that can be fabricated faster and cheaper. Here, you can incorporate features into the design that allow these parts to align automatically during assembly.
Another option is to separate the smaller parts with straight cuts that require you to align them when you fasten them together. Irrespective of which method you choose, your main consideration when you break larger parts up into smaller parts will be how you’ll bond them together.
Here, you’ll need to consider the strength of the bonds and what method you’ll use. Typically, you’ll either use chemical fasting or mechanical fasting depending on your specific needs and requirements.
5. Make Parts Hollow
Unlike subtractive manufacturing, where you’ll waste a lot of material if you make a part hollow, additive manufacturing allows you to do this and save you money in the process. This is simply because you’ll be able to fabricate the part a lot faster with a lot less material.
6. Optimize Design
As we’ve mentioned earlier, design complexity can be a significant contributor to overall costs. As a result, you’ll want to optimize your design to save not only money but time as well. In simple terms, if you optimize your design, you’ll ensure efficient fabrication.
Now, there are several ways in which you can optimize your design. For one, you should ensure that you maintain wall thicknesses that exceed the minimal specifications. You should also aim to, as far as possible, reduce support structures and steep overhangs.
Another way to optimize your design is to consider using lattice structures. These structures give you the perfect balance between strength, material costs, and fabrication speed.
7. Keep Failures at a Minimum
Failures can set you back, with the result that it takes you time and money to get back on track. As a result, you’ll want to avoid failed parts and broken machinery as far as possible.
Fortunately, it’s simple to do this. For one, you should only use reliable and tested materials and you should carry out regular maintenance on your equipment. Last but not least, although simple, ensuring that you keep your equipment and workspace clean can go a long way in reducing failures.
In-House or Outsource?
Finally, if you want to fabricate a prototype, one of the questions you’ll inevitably need to ask is whether you’ll outsource the fabrication or fabricate the prototype in-house.
Although in-house fabrication may be more cost-effective, especially when you plan on fabricating prototypes that will require multiple iterations, outsourcing your fabrication can be a sensible approach. This is especially true when you want to fabricate complex parts that require specialist skills and knowledge.
Another consideration is that, when you outsource, you don’t have to deal with the complexities above to increase your efficiency and, by implication, to save time and money. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the benefits of outsourcing your rapid prototyping.
|No need for any upfront investment in equipment. In addition, and because you don't have any equipment, you don't need to be concerned about any ongoing maintenance.
|You'll need to invest in the right equipment. This can cost you thousands of dollars and you’ll need to budget for ongoing maintenance as well.
|Gives you access to several technologies suited for a wide range of use cases.
|If you want access to several technologies, you'll need to invest in multiple systems.
|You'll typically outsource your fabrication to service providers that are experts in their field. As a result, they’ll be able to advise you on the right materials and design optimization.
|When you want to do your fabrication in-house, you’ll need the right skills and expertise. This will, generally, require that you hire or train operators at an extra cost.
Rapid Prototyping with Jiga
Jiga is a B2B marketplace for custom parts manufacturing, including 3D printing, CNC machining, and sheet metal. Our goal at Jiga is to make the process of purchasing custom parts or products as easy as possible.
The Jiga Marketplace puts you in touch with experienced rapid prorotyping experts who can help you pick the right manufacturing process for your prototype.
You’ll receive expert feedback on your order, without needing to place one first.
We’ll hold your money in escrow to make sure that you only pay for the parts you receive.
With Jiga, you can quickly and efficiently nail down your rapid prototyping manufacturing needs. We can help you get back on with bringing a game changing product to market.
Book a demo with us today to find out how!