Posted on: Aug 6, 2018, | By Will, WayKen Project Manager
Since the beginning of the 21st century, the world economy has been growing rapidly. More and more industries and products emerged. In recent years, the rapid development of the Internet industry has brought closer connections around the world, and information exchange has become more and more convenient. The world is moving towards to a true “global village”. Industry development plays an increasingly important role on a global scale and is an important force driving technological innovation, economic growth and social stability.
At the same time, market competition is also increasingly fierce. Customers need new, high-quality products that require faster, faster delivery of products tailored to customer requirements. In a sense, R&D plays an increasingly important role in a company. When talking about product development, we have to propel a special way to promote product development, that is – prototype machining.
1.What is prototype and prototype machining?
“Prototype” is a word used by the industry, and some people also call it sample, verification piece, model and so on. In general, it is a verification sample that is manufactured in small quantities before the product is finalized. For some products that need to be produced by the mold, prototype is one or several pieces that are first made according to the product appearance drawing or structural drawing without pre-molding, and are used for checking the functional appearance or structural rationality.
Prototype is the first step to verify the feasibility of the product design. During develop or design phase, it is necessary to make a prototype. In western countries, many companies will invest some budget in the product development stage, because a prototype is the most effective way to find out the defects, shortcomings and drawbacks of the design products so as to improve the targeted defects until the product become basically perfect. In addition, a small batch of trial production is usually required to find out the shortage before final mass production.
Design finished products can’t be perfect or even impossible to use. In this case, direct production will be scrapped once it is defective, which will greatly waste manpower, material resources, financial resources and time. The prototype is generally a small number of samples, the production cycle is short, the loss of manpower and material resources is small, and the lack of product design is quickly found to improve, providing a sufficient basis for product stereotypes.
Prototype machining refers to the process of making a prototype. In general, it can be divided into additive manufacturing and subtractive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing mainly includes SLA, SLS, FDM and LOM. Their commonality is that the processing methods are“layered manufacturing, layer by layer stacking,” similar to the mathematical integration process. The representative of subtractive manufacturing is CNC machining, which uses the cutting method to process the product structure and shape. Depending on the material and product requirements, the prototype machining method used will be different.
2.Why need prototype machining
It is necessary to make a prototype, the main reasons are as follows:
1) Inspection of the design: the prototype is not only visible, but also touchable. Besides, it also can intuitively reflect the designer’s creativity in the form of physical objects, avoiding the drawbacks of “painting it out but making it look bad”.
2) Inspection structure design: Because the prototype is assemblable, it can intuitively reflect the reasonableness of the structure and the ease of installation. It is convenient to find problems early and solve it.
3) Avoid the risk of directly opening the mold: Since the cost of mold manufacturing is generally high, the price of a relatively large mold is between 15,000 and 150,000 usd. If the structure is unreasonable or other problems are found during the process of opening the mold, the loss can not be imagined. Prototype machining can avoid this loss and reduce the risk of mold opening.
4) Shorten the time for product launch market : Due to the advanced nature of the prototype machining, you can use the prototypes for product promotion before the mold is developed, and even the early sales and production preparation work, then occupy the market early.
5) Carry out small batch production assembly directly by prototype machining, and carry out trial sales products through rapid feedback information modification until finalization, which greatly reduces market risk.
3.The basic process of prototype machining
As there are various technologier of prototype machining, I will present the general process of prototype machining in the most common used CNC machining services.
1)Programming: After receiving the 3D drawing from customesr, the programmer will perform 3D data analysis and processing path parameter design, and physical cutting simulation verification. This step determines the manufacturing process when the product is processed in the machine. Sometimes, due to limited product structure, it is required to split the parts. In China, the software commonly used for programming is Mastercam. This software supports the editing and processing of STP and IGS format files. This is why we will ask customers to provide STP or IGS format pictures when encountering some customers who require CNC processing.
2) Material selection: According to the customer’s requirements for materials, the corresponding raw materials are used. In the previous 3D data analysis, the raw material size required for processing the hand parts will also be estimated. The raw materials in the prototype machining industry will be different from the mass production. Generally, the CNC uses block materials and bars, which are different from the mass production of injection molded plastic particles. Depending on the part size, materials with sides are slightly larger than the part size are used for machining.
3) Machining: Put the material into the machine and cut the material according to the programmed path. According to the structure of different products and the requirements for precision, roughing and finishing are generally required. Different precision requirements for different positions will use different tools to achieve product cutting. When all the processes are completed, the product can be used.
4)Prototype post-processing: According to customer’s requirements, different surface treatments such as silk screen, sanding, polishing, painting, electroplating, etc. can be performed on the prototype after off the machine.
With the industrialization wave, technology has been innovating, and prototype machining is the driving force and catalyst for product development. I believe that it will always play an important role in the future. Benefiting from more and more companies paying attention to front-end product development, the prototype machining industry will also grow and develop continuously. It will serve and promote more and more industries development.