When does in-house prototypes make sense?
Medical device companies have increasingly outsourced prototypes over the past two decades. It doesn’t have to be that way.Dr. Elliot Fegelman & Benjamim Ko, Kaleidoscope Innovation
Product creators have historically constructed their own parts and prototypes, whether tinkering in the workshop or at multi-specialty design/build shops.
However as machining capabilities have accumulated complexity and capabilities, they have also become more costly and have occupied more floor space. A five-axis CNC machine, for instance, requires knowledge that a knee mill does not.
Many of the in-house “build” skills that were once the hallmark of product design have been outsourced to prototyping specialists with this increased specialisation. However an in-house rapid prototyping shop will still make sense for those with the space and access to a workforce trained in CAD and machining. This is how:
While the off-site prototype shops excel in rapid turnaround and shipping, there’s a greater efficiency created when engineers just need to walk down the hall to consult with a prototyping specialist, discuss the item and know it will go into the queue that afternoon.
That visit to the specialist involves more than just handing over a CAD file. Using their skills in CAD and machining, the specialist can make suggestions to the design engineers on placing a radius, augmenting tooling efficiency and reducing touch. These prototyping recommendations can often be translated into the final manufacturing process to save valuable time in a complex schedule.
With the advent of 3D printing, designers and engineers have enjoyed rapid turnaround and true-to-form pieces, but the tolerances or robustness of those pieces can be lacking. Machined parts made of true material make the integration between pieces more predictable and the tolerance for field stressors more robust. This method of prototyping also eliminates the oft-heard excuse of blaming 3D-printed parts for technical flaws that may or may not truly be mitigated by production-equivalent devices.
The triple constraints of time, cost and quality are still alive and well, heightened by today’s speed of innovation. In-house prototyping shortens the iteration cycle, but more importantly, reduces the need for iterations. When the pieces fit and function the first time, the critical design improvements needed to enhance the product — not the prototypes — are more easily identified, shortening the process.
For businesses that deliver value through innovative design and manufacturing processes, differentiation is critical. An in-house rapid prototype shop staffed by specialists, combined with 3D printing capabilities, offers clients an efficient and bespoke approach to meeting their needs.
Some trends are best followed; many are best to lead. Sometimes it’s most impactful to buck the trend. In-house machining capabilities with multi-axis CNC lathes and mills, precision EDM wire machines along with the specialists to wield them can add overall improvements in timelines, costs and customer satisfaction.