If your prototype efforts are currently behind schedule, there’s no need to panic. There are a number of ways organizations can get prototypes completed on schedule without having to further delay the timeline. Program delays are expensive, and nobody wants prototyping to be costlier than it already is, so we recommend looking at the following aspects and processes that go into building prototype to find opportunities to expedite its launch without adding unnecessary risk.
6 Considerations to Expedite Your Next Prototype Launch
1. Testing Requirements
Everyone wants to get everything right on the first try. If they didn’t, then they’d be wasting their time in manufacturing. The reality is that in prototyping, particularly the first round, there are going to be a variety of lessons learned that need to be applied to the final design and process. With this in mind, considering just what kind of testing the parts are going to be subjected to in order to move on to pre-production parts is key to finding ways to expedite a prototype launch.
Is the part going to be placed into a showroom or just utilized for marketing purposes? Maybe the visual specifications are the higher priority items and some development time can be trimmed out of the performance specifications. Understanding the prototype goals, particularly in testing, can chip away at some of the prototype development requirements that are a drag on the timeline.
2. Material Specifications
Knowing what materials need to be in prototype and production is important. Depending on testing and visual requirements, using a different material for a prototype build could mean a difference of a couple weeks to the timeline. If the part isn’t going to be bearing any loads that the saleable product would, perhaps a less durable material is in order. Swapping out the polycarbonate material for an ABS, or a steel for aluminum, could potentially reduce timing without adding any risk to the functionality of the prototype build.
3. Alternate Manufacturing Methods
If the process for making a part in production is known, consider whether that process is appropriate in a low-volume setting. Advances in additive manufacturing (3D printing) have made it so a wide variety of parts can be produced in relatively short order as compared to parts made from hard tooling. This is an especially great opportunity for time savings in plastic parts. The unit cost may have some shock value, but not having to invest in any hard tooling makes it only slightly more expensive in some cases in exchange for drastically compressed timelines.
3D printing is not the only method to save time though. Seeking out low-volume machining suppliers is a great way to make a part that’s visually and functionally the same as the part desired in production, but without the long lead times. This approach works well for parts designed as castings or forgings that require some complex assembly.
4. Multiple Sources
Some prototypes, like automobiles, are extremely complex and require a lot of parts from the same manufacturing process. Prototype suppliers are traditionally low-volume providers, so to a larger organization, the burden being placed on them may seem small, but could actually strain the supplier’s resources. If the quality consistency isn’t a deal-breaker for the next phase of the product launch, utilizing two or more suppliers for a series of parts would split the workload and reduce timing for the prototype launch.
5. Part Design
If you’ve made a decision to utilize different manufacturing processes for production, a redesign may be in order. This isn’t the end of the world. If you’ve designed a part as a casting or a forging, it’s likely that those aren’t great options for timeline reduction. Moving to a machined part means different tolerances coming from a different type of raw material. Redesigning the parts for a prototype environment while keeping the end goal in mind is appropriate when expediting a prototype launch.
6. In-House Capabilities
Depending on your organization’s capabilities, there’s potentially value to add within the organization on the manufacturing of the parts. If the capacity and expertise is available in-house to perform some operations, it may make sense to take that responsibility on to reduce timing instead of fighting for capacity or attention on a supplier’s floor. This works for complex assemblies as well. Your organization may be better equipped to source hardware or other purchased components for an assembly to make on site, as opposed to outsourcing to the supplier.
At the end of the day, your organization must decide on what‘s most important in the prototype process. While loosening up some specifications on the product or switching to different materials could drastically reduce timing and, potentially, cost, if making those changes doesn’t result in learning the lessons your organization sought to learn in the process, the time saved won’t be worth it. The first step in expediting any prototype process is to understand exactly what’s important to the program and what’s not. Altering how the less important pieces are carried out can result in an impressive timeline recovery.