According to RapidPro , as soon as the small business rolls out a new product, financial investments rise. Before realising any profit, the company proceeds through a series of events that comprise the product development process.
Typical product development process includes the following milestones:
- Test and pilot
With digital manufacturing, prototypes can be made during the design or testing phases and changes can be incorporated quickly. Additionally, the decisions made during the test and pilot phases have an impact on the cost to manufacture the product.
As manufacturing nears, the levels of investment and commitment grow at a higher rate. As a result of this, many gravitate towards traditional manufacturing methods such as injection moulding, extruding and blow moulding.
Digital manufacturing allows the design and manufacturing processes to remain fluid as long as possible and avoid long-term commitments until absolutely necessary. As a product's design evolves from concept to completion, prototypes play an important role. For every product revision, a prototype is the vehicle that communicates flaws which affect form, fit and function.
When relying on conventional machining and fabrication tools, prototypes typically take one to two weeks to develop and are expensive to make. Short on time and money, it is easy to skip prototyping with the assumption that the design is ready for manufacturing. However, this assumption may prove fatal if a flaw goes undetected. Following discovery of a design flaw, the product is redesigned and another prototype is created. This is where the digital manufacturing becomes important.
Typical lead times for digitally manufactured prototypes are two days versus the two weeks of machined parts. Independent of the complexity of the design, the prototype is available with little impact on the product development schedule, and often at less expense. Multiplied by a number of design revisions, the savings increase. With just three iterations, for example, AF could produce the prototypes for each design in a total six days.
Digital manufacturing removes the obstacle of time and diminishes the barrier of expense to promote the use of prototypes. This results in better designs when attempting to manufacture the product. Another obstacle that digital manufacturing eliminates is the consumption of engineering time.
For example, a designer can export an STL file, upload it to a service provider's website, receive a quote and place an order in less than fifteen minutes. When machining and fabricating prototypes, the process must be considered because some features of the design may not be reproducible and those that are may demand much time and are expensive to make. If, for example, a part that is manufactured with injection moulding is prototyped with a CNC mill, features that cannot be machined will be removed from the design. This requires additional and unnecessary time from the designer to modify the CAD data and the resulting prototype will not be accurate to that which will be manufactured.
Digital manufacturing makes the prototyping process efficient and saves design time. Every feature and every detail is included in the prototype because it is insensitive to complexity. The additive nature of the process allows the original design intent to be translated to a physical object with no impact on time or cost.
Resources and efficiencies also come into play when the prototyping process is performed. Contrary to machine shops, the digital manufacturing process requires less labour, few tasks and only one manufacturing process. Additionally, digital manufacturing is fully automated so that it can build parts around the clock with no machine operators. As a result, the data is prepared quickly, the AF machine is readied and the build is launched. Orders are typically completed quickly independent of the order quantity, part complexity or scheduling priorities.
Prototypes, whether made by machining or digital manufacturing, does not eliminate design errors, but they help companies to prevent those mistakes from becoming costly problems in production. So, the fundamental advantage of digital manufacturing for the small business is that it facilitates prototyping early and often. This rapid cycle of design, review and revision assures that testing and manufacturing proceed smoothly and cost effectively. With digital manufacturing, small companies can be responsive and adaptable to the unforeseen flaws that arise during the product design.