Rapid prototypes help you test your design appearance and performance. You can test multiple material options and evaluate your potential market without a large investment in time and money.

Once you are satisfied with your product and are ready to move from prototypes to production, there are several things to make sure of to ensure that the transition to larger volumes is smooth. From PROTOSPAIN we give you five tips to help you optimize the process of bringing your product to market.

1. Choose the right manufacturing process

Metal products

Metal prototypes are generally made by CNC machining or metal 3D printing. Although excellent for some types of prototypes, metal 3D printing is not suitable for production in many cases. Although the technology is advancing, it is still too slow and expensive for larger volumes unless you require complex geometries and lightweight parts.

Most metal prototypes are made by CNC machining and this is a good way to scale volumes over time as demand increases.

For high volume manufacturing, consider die casting. This is the fastest and most economical way to make large batches of identical metal parts. Note that there are design rules for fabrication that must be followed for casting, and you will need to invest in a production tool. But this cost can be recovered in a large production order.

For flat parts, they can opt for laser cutting, which in turn can be bent into three-dimensional shapes. Another technology is stamping and embossing.

Plastic products

If the prototype was made in plastic, it was probably made by 3D printing, CNC machining, polyurethane vacuum casting(Injection molding in silicone molds) or Reaction Injection Molding (RIM) if they are large parts. For larger volumes in plastic, the ideal solution is plastic injection molding.

If the prototype was made in plastic, it was probably made by 3D printing, CNC machining or polyurethane vacuum casting(Injection molding in silicone molds). For larger volumes in plastic, the ideal solution is plastic injection molding.

Injection molding, like die casting, requires strict adherence to design rules that do not come into play when using rapid prototyping techniques. These include the use of ribs and protrusions, minimum wall thickness dimensions, demolding angles, injection point positions, slides, ejector pins and many other considerations.

Therefore, product developers must ensure that their plans take into account the additional cost and time-to-market involved in a transition from one process to another.

2. Prepare a bill of materials (BOM)

Prototypes generally involve only a few finished parts and these have a high unit price.

When it is time to go to production, every element of the assembly must be considered. Every nut, bolt and screw, rubber button or metal clip, even the amount of paint or glue, should be accounted for as a separate cost. More components mean a more complex supply chain, so it pays to keep the design as simple as possible.

Finally, a detailed bill of materials can help you evaluate the amount of labor involved in the assembly process, which can be a significant cost factor.

3. Choose the right material

Sometimes, a prototype is made of an expensive or “exotic” material. This is done to make it a showpiece or to help with a marketing or funding campaign. But exotic materials are not a good choice for high-volume manufacturing.

You should consider using the most common raw materials. They will be less expensive and easier and faster to acquire. More importantly, manufacturers have more experience working with stock materials, so it will be easier to control the process parameters for more reliable results.

4. Choose the right surface finish

A carefully sanded, polished and hand-painted prototype with a custom color certainly looks great. But is that practical on a large scale? Elaborate surface finishes tend to require a lot of attention to detail and careful handwork, something that is not always possible for mass production.

If you need specialized finishing processes, we recommend that you find ways to automate or adhere to one or two finishes rather than multiple finishes. For aluminum parts, anodizing is an attractive and very durable surface treatment and parts can be processed in batches as required without compromising any minimum volume.

5. Certification and testing plan

Unlike prototypes, production parts for commercial sale must be certified under a variety of safety and regulatory schemes. This will depend on many factors, including the environment in which the product is used, whether it runs on electricity and the country where it is sold.

You should be prepared to send finished products to different organizations to obtain certifications and estimate the time and expense of this necessary step.