Before a manufacturer makes a large investment in tooling a new project, engineers must make sure the new designs they propose work perfectly. The best way to test and ensure new designs work as desired is through prototyping and product refinement.
As sections become more complex and tooling costs increase, it is more important than ever for engineers to get prototypes right before production begins. How can engineers make the most of the prototyping and product refinement phases of production? That’s the big question this post sets out to answer.
Below are three tips for success in prototyping and product refinement.
1. Simulate roll forming with other techniques.
Roll forming’s strengths are most apparent in high volume production environments, where its economies of scale can be achieved and in-line processing fully leveraged. However, to simulate how a profile or product will work, use other fabrication methods such as press braking, soft tooling and turret punching.
These alternative fabrication methods produce small quantities quickly with little-to-no tooling. (Soft tooling uses more economical materials with a shorter tool life.) As a result, prototypes can be produced in a much shorter lead time and at a drastically reduced cost. Manufacturers can verify a new design will be effective before the final investment in finished tooling.
2. Test and iterate.
Testing is a crucial element in the prototyping process because once production is started, it becomes much more difficult and expensive to make major changes to a design. Tests such as environmental, real-load and stress act as the last line of defense for a prototype before it moves onto the production phase.
Confirm the prototype’s compatibility with mating components. Run real-load and stress tests to verify tensile strength and evaluate performance in target applications. And conduct environmental testing to expose the prototype to corrosive conditions such as temperature, moisture or debris.
During testing, you can identify issues before they represent a large sunk cost. Prototype testing provides concrete evidence to back up performance. This results in a more reliable final design proposal that you can recommend with confidence. Tests may also unveil opportunities to simplify design.
3. Commit to an outside-the-box mentality.
The prototyping and product refinement process is a time to remain creative and open to many different fabrication possibilities. You may create multiple iterations of prototypes before a final tooling investment is made. Make the most of the opportunity that prototyping presents, understanding that the main goal is improvement.
The trial-and-error period is crucial to the end success of any project. While you are in the prototyping and product refinement stage, maintain an outside-the-box mentality to be confident you’ve made impactful, value-add improvements.
Prototyping is a part of the manufacturing process that many do, but few do successfully. Align with an experienced fabrication partner that can prototype product designs, run simulations and tests, and fix problems before they happen on a large scale.