Congratulations on developing or upgrading your product! Transitioning to the prototype production phase is an exhilarating milestone. After many plans, solving engineering issues, and working on the product, you can finally see it in real field conditions, feel it with your hands, and get feedback from the end user. There are several technologies for prototyping plastic parts, whether it is CNC modeling, 3D printing, or experimental injection molds. Each of them has advantages and disadvantages. Distinguishing between them is crucial for selecting the technology that aligns best with your needs.
The Prototype Phase as a Learning Opportunity for Serial Production Challenges
When considering the technology to employ, prioritizing instructive production methods over the fastest ones is essential. Beyond providing a glimpse of the tangible product, the prototype production phase serves as preparation for future successful mass production. Identifying design/part weaknesses during this phase enables adjustments that support efficient serial production. Neglecting this aspect may lead to costly repercussions and in some situations it will even be too late to go back to the drawing board and fix them.
Are There Certain Products that Require Special Attention During the Prototyping Phase?
With years of experience, the person to answer is none other than Ronen Rave, the head of our Mold department. He emphasizes the significance of prototyping for certain products “Some products trigger early warning signals, mostly parts that have complex geometric challenges or parts which require very expensive tool investment such as multi-cavity molds. For these kinds of products, it is recommended to go with injection prototype molds in order to learn as much as possible about the actual production process and to avoid long cycle times, high production waste rates, and complex mold maintenance before investing in expensive molds.
However, Injection Molding Prototyping is Notably more Time-consuming than its 3D Printing Counterpart. Should Speed not Take Precedence at this Initial Stage?
“It’s tempting to opt for a quick and budget-friendly 3D or CNC prototype, but cheap solutions often translate to future expenses,” cautions Ronen. “While injection-molding prototypes incur higher costs and longer production times, they offer the advantage of simulating the serial production process and allow us to identify and resolve production issues in advance, especially at critical points in the process such as the effect of the cooling system or the material gate location on the quality and visibility of the product. The time invested in addressing these concerns ultimately pays off, expediting the time to market.”
So, what is the better choice – the fastest or the most instructive?
“It is important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each of the technologies,” says Ronen. “There are stages in which all that is required is to “feel” the product, and then the fast and cheap technologies are certainly suitable. The great advantage of an injection-molded prototype lies in scrutinizing the product’s functional requirements and its compatibility with future serial production processes. Even development-focused companies, that have already gained a lot of experience, often fail at this point. Therefore, if you have a new product, get us involved as early as possible – it will pay off for you later,” he promises.
Picture 1: Ronen Rave, Rion’s head of Mold department.