You know what your thing should look like, and what it should do. It is probably something you have come to know like a good friend. You have probably spent hours of creative time working on it, thinking about it, and revising it over and over again. “Obsession” is a word that usually describes it. That is okay. We understand. 🙂
Most folks need to sell their thing or idea someday. The people who need to visualize that thing are usually investors or users who would very much like to see and understand your thing before investing their resources in it. Sometimes it is not financially practical to have a complete prototype ready to show to investors, especially when those investors are not located where you are. Consider too that to see a photo and to have an actual prototype in hand present different risks for having your idea copied by others.
One of the strengths of designing parts or complete assemblies in 3D CAD software is that we can generate photo-realistic images of what the part will look like when it is made. We can place logos, add photo-realistic lighting, backgrounds, or whatever is needed to depict the device. Sometimes those images lead to aesthetic changes that can mean all the difference in the final product. Sometimes those images get used for promotional materials that would be difficult to generate by using a physical model. Sometimes those images go no further than a portfolio.
Sometimes a photo is indeed worth a thousand words.
We like developing simple products, not just because it is simple. Simple products are easier for our clients to quickly get out on the market. (Don’t get me wrong, we really love challenging projects too…) Since speed to market is important, not only to be first one out there, but also get your invested money back as sales are starting to trickle in. If you had chance to meet the owner of Polyhistor International, Inc., Peter Schönning, you have most likely heard him say, “sales is when the rubber meets the road.” One great example is Shaving Slip, a product we assisted our client with from concept to finished product.
The Shaving Slip prevents those pesky rust stains from shaving cream cans. I am personally really glad that I do not have to deal with rust stains anymore (the wife is even happier and we all like a happy wife). To learn more, go on to Facebook and like them http://www.facebook.com/shavingslip and if you want one, you can get it here http://www.shavingslip.com.
See.. it doesn’t have to be that complicated to make a new product.
Our rapid prototyping capability helps us make tools quickly for our contract manufacturing needs.
Have you ever been tinkering around and wondered to yourself, “If only I had a tool that could do…” All of the mechanical engineers I know have extensive tool boxes. While it is great to have every driver, wrench and helpful thingy known to man at the tip of your fingers, it is not always a tool that is off-the-shelf that will do the job.
One of the services we provide is the manufacturing of wire harnesses. In one case it was necessary to twist wires together and the client needed parts fast. Sounds easy, right? Try buying a reasonably priced tool that can do that, especially when you have crimped ends that most folks don’t use. The lead time to actually get the twister delivered would directly have put us out of the picture.
Since our strength is custom work in relatively small runs of maybe a few thousand pieces, we make our own tools using rapid prototyping. One of our favorite tools is a handy little device that we use for wire twisting. Using a small motor, a foot switch, and our special rig, it works consistently and efficiently. When you need to twist wires for 500 harnesses, the little rig can save hours of work. With our rapid prototype capabilities, we can easily make new fixtures to accommodate different crimped ends. Within 24 hours we had conceptualized, designed, and 3D printed the wire twister which is seen in action in the video we made.
This part is a sample piece that can only be produced using rapid prototyping techniques.
Rapid prototypes require a 3D CAD file in STL format. If you have one, you can upload the file here. We will send you a quote by e-mail shortly. The rapid prototype can be produced and delivered to you within a few days.
But what if my design is not completed? That is where our engineers come in. We are experienced product development engineers that can complete the design for you. We can work from as little as paper napkin sketches. Sometimes our clients bring us mock-up models taped together using foam core, off-the-shelf parts, and cardboard. As long as what you have conveys the concept, we can make it happen.
Some people have experience with design, and prefer to do it themselves, but do not have the software resources that design engineers use. If you want to design the product yourself there are some free or low-cost alternatives available. Our favorite review site Top Ten Reviews has reviewed low-cost CAD software. There are also open source CAD programs that are free. If your intention is rapid prototyping, you need to make sure that the software can export STL files. If you plan to send your design out for production at a later stage, many mold makers prefer to work with STEP or IGES formats.
Caution: We have not tried these low-cost or free programs so we cannot say anything about how they perform. Another caution is that a design is typically not better than the designer. I am in the possession of a word processor but it does not make my writing skills better 🙂 Remember that almost any part can be rapid prototyped. When the part goes into production there are limitations to consider that are not readily apparent if you do not have experience with the production equipment.
Our high-resolution Objet printer is able to prototype small parts that are impossible to produce with many other techniques. This image features a gear we made for one of our clients (yes, we asked their permission before publishing this article). The actual diameter is 9.5 mm (3/8″) and it fits neatly on the head of a quarter.
They key is in the printer resolution and how the part is oriented with respect to support material. With an Objet system it is possible to produce parts with a flat finish and parts with a shiny finish. In this case, it was essential to have the gear produced with a shiny finish so that it had the correct friction characteristics.
Most other of prototyping technologies cannot produce this level of detail or quality of finish.
One key benefit to rapid prototyping prior to full production is that you have the ability to test-fit the part prior to production.
Our blog posts will focus on rapid prototyping, mechanical engineering, and product development. The rapid prototyping field is changing every day. It changes the way products are designed, tested, and eventually produced. In time, this technology is poised to change the face of manufacturing as this process gets faster and the products are made of better materials.