Preston Smith's Corner

How can we really benefit from rapid prototyping?

June 2000 Quick Tip

Rapid prototyping has arisen over the past fifteen years. It allows product developers to make physical parts from designs in hours, in contrast to the weeks required by traditional machining methods. Most of those doing rapid prototyping focus on making parts still faster or on making better parts. For instance, they strive to make parts that are stronger, cheaper, or more environmentally friendly.

Amazingly, few companies are taking full advantage of the latent timesavings in rapid prototyping. Yes, they do make models faster, and this saves them some time overall. But they have not redesigned their development processes to reap major gains. To use an analogy, they now use cellular phones — but only from their offices — as this is where they have always done their phoning.

This topic is timely, because the newest generation of rapid prototypers, variously called desktop modelers, conceptual modelers, or 3D printers, offer great potential for overcoming major development delays. These rapid prototyping systems are especially valuable in the fuzzy front end of development (for details on the fuzzy front end, see Chapter 3 of Developing Products in Half the Time.

For example, large fuzzy-front-end delays often stem from obtaining approval from marketing or sales for a concept that engineering has developed. Lots of quick models are perfect for “forcing” a decision at this point, which often saves weeks or months from normal corporate decision-making cycles. Few companies recognize this opportunity; still fewer are doing anything about it.

To pursue this topic, see our article “Rapid Prototyping Accelerates the Design Process.”

(c) Copyright 2013 Preston G. Smith. All Rights Reserved.

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