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How to use a Prototype Model
A prototype model in most circumstances will not have the desired surface finishes or material properties needed to accurately test a prototype, due to the lack of available materials for prototyping models. However, virtual prototypes are only as good as the person that created them. Sometimes it is not wise to put your trust in FEA alone. For those situations rapid prototyping can help with testing, as well as allow the design team to feel the product, and see how it will look.
Rapid prototype modeling
Although you may not be able to create a rapid prototype from exactly the same material as the final product, much can be gained in testing a rapid prototype. If the material for the rapid prototype model has similar attributes as the final product, testing can be done to show failure modes and to inspect for manufacturing issues, also, comparative analysis can be used to check results from virtual tests such as FEA.
For product development where ergonomics are an issue, there is nothing more valuable to the product development team than a physical prototype model. A prototype model can allow them to interact with the product before going to production. Most often this stage in product development will be iterative and multiple prototyping models will be needed.
How to use a prototype model
Aside from rapid prototype models an actual prototype can be created using the manufacturing methods that will be used during production. This process should only take place in the product development stages after a rapid prototype has been created and approved. Using material removal processes can take longer and are usually more expensive. Once a functioning prototype is created this is when the final testing should take place, product use should be tested in its natural environment to ensure that all hazards of its environment have been used. It is not uncommon for companies to build parts using hardwoods such as oak, maple, or cherry to realize once the product goes to market that these woods will change color in sunlight, sometimes having an unwanted effect on the product.
Finding a manufacturer with a prototype model
Once the prototype model is complete and satisfactory you are in a much better position to begin looking for a manufacturer. First you have already dealt with one manufacturer for the prototype model, and may desire to use that same company for your production. Secondly, you have had experience with the manufacturing and will be able to see possible manufacturing problems from the prototyping model, such as plastic injection defects, machining marks, or tooling issues. And lastly, you will have a finished product to send the manufacturer that will allow them to check dimensions and compare parts against, along with the CAD drawings.
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