You’re starting on your new idea that will fit a niche in your industry. You have a timeline put down on paper, a complete schedule of when designs end, when tools can begin, and when final production should be ready to ship out. You’ve already started your patent paperwork as well. The one question you still have is, “Should you invest in, or do you need, a prototype of your final design?”
The U.S. Patent Office (USPO) does not require a prototype to be submitted to file for a patent. If it’s not required, should you invent in a working prototype? You may initially think you don’t need a prototype, but the extra investment has more advantages than you may realize.
Reduce the Design Phase of the Project
Before filing for a patent, you will need a complete breakdown of your design. Your early sketches are scarce on details, and a 3D model can only show so much detail on the computer screen. Printed design details can better translate the unique properties of your newest idea. Without enough detail, your patent application may be denied. You must distinguish your idea from your competitors, and your application needs to show enough details that an industry expert could recreate your idea. Paper schematics are good, but a working prototype can answer more questions. The cost of the prototype may be less than having to re-file your patent application multiple times or redesign your new idea because of overlooked details.
Reduce Overall Tooling Investment
After the initial design is complete, the next step is to create tooling. You may find that one or two prototypes can find simple areas of needed focus for detail redesign. Maybe a radius needs to be added for better functionality. A draft angle may need to be increased to change the durability of a component. Small details can increase costs if they must be fixed after tools are made. Software can model resin flow within an injection mold, but a rapid prototype may show details that software won’t replicate well. Prototypes can be easily used to measure improvements in the tooling and part design prior to the formal tooling being created. The tools may take 8-12 weeks to complete, and reducing the development timing of the tool design is critical for getting the product to market quickly.
Reduce the Manufacturing Process Development Requirements
Permanent manufacturing tooling can take months to complete, and waiting for samples off the permanent tools can take even longer. Your new project may have competition in the marketplace, and as they say, time is money. The wait time before the permanent tools are complete can be utilized to define the manufacturing process with prototypes. You will find opportunities for improvement as you test the manufacturing process, and finding those opportunities during the wait period for permanent tools can reduce overall development time. Rapid prototypes, even in a raw form, can give insight in handling by technicians, show needed steps added to the later processes, and help process engineers gauge efficiency in the complete manufacturing cycle. Rapid prototype samples can also aid with written instructions and allow pictures for instruction manuals for your end customer to use.
Reduce the Development of Secondary Processes
Your new product may require secondary processes like ultrasonic welding, drilling and tapping, inserts, labels, or laser etching. Prototype samples of your design can be used to validate holding fixtures and cycle times for new manufacturing tooling and secondary equipment. You may determine that more steps are required in the manufacturing process than were originally planned. Prototypes offer a simple way to verify every step in the complete manufacturing process to ensure your product is ready for market.
Reduce the Packaging Development
Your new idea will mostly likely need new packaging in some variety. It could be internal logistics moving components from one facility to another, or your finished product beginning its journey on a global trek for distribution. Prototypes allow for the development of packaging to be reduced in time and cost. Samples can be used to define packing specifications as an individual product inside a container, or bulk packing to reduce the overall packaging in a shipment.
The Rapid Prototype Options Available From SEA-LECT Plastics
SEA-LECT Plastics uses many options to produce rapid prototype samples and test parts for our customers. Some require them in the development process, while others use them exclusively for tradeshows and meetings. Whatever the purpose, a rapid prototype can be a valuable asset for your next project. These are the main options that we frequently use in development, and what attributes they offer:
- Rapid Injection Molding – A low cost rapid mold can be used for a small amount of parts for low cost
- Digital Light Processing – It has a good tolerance to the design and has a good surface finish.
- CNC Machining – An ideal choice for plastic without costly tooling. It holds tighter tolerances and has a better surface
- Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) – SLS is for plastic prototypes with intricate internal designs
- Laminated Object Manufacturing – A good option using thin laminates laid layer by layer for plastic. The designs should not be complex, but LOM is low cost compared to others.
- Selective Laser Melting (SLM) – SLM is the preferred option for parts requiring high strength, high durability, and a complex intricate design
- Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) – FDM includes a low cost, ease of us, and using multiple plastic types and colors in one prototype
- Stereolithography (SLA) – good for low volume production parts with a quality finish and increased strength
- Binder Jetting – A big advantage in making multiple parts at one time with a lower cost
If you’re interested in learning more about each rapid prototype option, check out our article with more in-depth information on each.
The Best Option for Your Next Project
We offer nine different options for creating prototype samples. Each option will offer advantages based on the material you need to use, the accuracy of the dimensions involved, and the surface finish required for your plastic sample. Each option offers a quick manufacturing time, which can save you development time and investment capital. Whether you plan to file for a patent or not, a prototype can offer more advantages for the overall project. It may be hard to determine which type or rapid prototype would be best for your project, and that’s where SEA-LECT Plastics comes in. When you’re ready to work with our elite team that produces world-class prototypes and products, call (425) 339-0288 or email us at email@example.com. We look forward to offering support and advice on your next project. In the end, the material and process chosen will benefit your product design by having a prototype made to show employees, potential customers, current clients, and future investors.
Matthias Poischbeg was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany. Matt moved to Everett, Wash., after finishing his bachelor’s degree in business in 1995 to work for Sea-Dog Corporation, a manufacturer, and distributor of marine and rigging hardware established in 1923.
In 1999, Matt took over the reins at Sea-Lect Plastics Corporation, a sister company of Sea-Dog and a manufacturer of plastic injection molded products with an in-house tool & die shop. Matthias Poischbeg is also a contributor to Grit Daily.