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18 Apr 2012

3D software can work hand in hand with physical rapid prototypes

3D software can work hand in hand with physical rapid prototypes

Traditionally for companies, the speed in which you can take a product to market has been the issue focused on the most. As a result, companies have relied heavily on fast, efficient product development coupled with a quick and flexible manufacturing process. Recently though, companies are beginning to look at the speed in which they can put their design into production, streamlining their products quickly and in turn, speeding up the process from conception to market.

Rapid prototyping is still valued today among businesses as an essential part of their product development, and with the power of some operating and software systems available to businesses in the industry today; some are finding the benefits of also virtually testing their prototypes.

Advanced 3D CAD systems can also help businesses visualise the product they will be producing as a prototype in more detail, shorten their development cycle, simulate and validate the product by testing it before committing it to a physical product, and ultimately allows them to deliver a quality product to market quicker.

Traditional methods, like 2D CAD are being left behind in favour of new technologies, like AnsoftLinks Integrate Electrical by ANSYS, which converts a design on screen to a ready-to-simulate model, allowing design engineers to select and test individual components within the virtual product.

Whilst these developments are helping electronic companies several stages back from launching a finished product, we’ve found many are still in demand for rapid prototypes for shows or exhibitions. As a result, the development of this new software is actually assisting the industry in ensuring that these physical prototypes, which often include  membrane keypads, graphic overlays or labels, are as close to the real thing as possible.

Equally, investing in new software and technology that allows for more testing to be done on screen, can make the manufacturing process quicker and more cost effective. Advances in software will always benefit a business by offering more up to date solutions, but virtual prototypes could never replace the impact the real thing has when trying to secure a major order at an industry leading show. This was backed up by some research we conducted across electronic engineers working in medical, catering, fire security and electronics sectors. The research found that whilst only 40 per cent of engineers are presently using digital prototypes, 90 per cent are predicting that the digital prototyping industry will continue to grow over the next five years.

Our research also found that whilst taking an idea for a new product through to production can often be the start of a long, laborious and expensive journey to production, many are finding that this need not be the case as digital prototyping can reduce expenditure and operating costs, provide rapid time to market and the ability to maximise the latest technologies. Forty per cent of engineers said the most important benefit of manufacturing a digital (physical) prototype is a fast turnaround of product, with 20 per cent stating that it also allows modifications to the product before paying out for a full set of artwork and tools.

The demand for physical prototypes also remains popular as it helps engineers to review the design prior to going into full manufacturing, the product development process can also be analysed close and hard, leading to higher sales volumes and profits when a more polished product is launched. Using a digital prototype of a membrane keypad or graphic overlay can also shorten horizons. For instance, it is easier to predict what will happen tomorrow than what will happen next month. Therefore, reducing the time between conceiving, producing and selling a product greatly improves the ability to forecast demand or interest.

So, if you are two weeks from an important show or exhibition and your competitor launches a product that is visually identical to the one that you have in development, you still have time to alter the look of the product without a great investment. Whether alterations include an initial stage of virtual prototyping, a physical prototype can still be produced in time to showcase at the exhibition. A great example of how these two technologies can work collaboratively and quickly.

In conclusion, it is my view that instead of considering these new software products and programmes as a potential threat to physical prototypes, manufacturers should harness these new technologies and use them to increase business efficiency and accuracy. A product could be technically perfect but you need to make sure that customers want it, or you have no place in the market.

Paul Bennett is Managing Director of Fascia Graphics, the market leader for the production of graphic overlays and membrane keypads. For more information please visit our website.


Image copyright of ralphbijker

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