Prototyping Trends: Physical to Digital to Virtual

Following multiple requests from my previous post on Solidworks XR, I am writing this blog to explain the various stages in the prototyping process and how the innovations in this space is helping manufacturers reduce time & costs required for new product design. I will go over the typical stages of product design, identify the stages requiring prototyping and then talk about innovations in this space.

Prototyping is an integral step of product design & development. New products that are developed from scratch and also enhancements to existing products traditionally involve physical prototyping.

For a detailed history on the stages of prototyping …
Stages in Prototyping

The stages in new product development are as depicted below. The workflow clearly indicates that:

  • Various types of physical prototypes are needed.
  • Each prototype requires a review meeting to proceed to the next stage

Note: Product Design is never a linear process. It always has feedback loops which bring back changes in the design requiring previous stages to be redone. This implies that the prototyping used for that design stage also has to be updated as per changes in the design.

The following picture illustrates the specific outcomes of each stage of the prototyping process:
Physical Prototyping: Tools & Techniques
Traditional Machining
For engineering designs like those of large industrial equipment or complex machinery, physical prototypes are sometimes created as scale models in view of the enormous time and cost involved.

Pros and Cons: Traditional machining is both reliable and a perfected process. The downside is the time and cost involved as mentioned above.

Additive Manufacturing
Modern technology like additive manufacturing helps accelerate physical prototyping to an extent but cannot act as a replacement.

Pros and Cons: There is no doubt that 3D printing is an amazing technology. But it comes to rescue for prototyping of only a few critical components. This is because 3D printing is a slow process and using production quality material could be prohibitively costly.

Is additive manufacturing really the right fit for you? Speak to our experts…
Modern Trends in Prototyping
Digital Prototyping

With advancements in CAD and computer aided simulations for handling large product assemblies, there is an increasing trend in creating a digital model first.

Pros and Cons: Digital Prototyping has the benefit of validating various design elements digitally, thus reducing the number of physical prototypes. However, 3D CAD designs are inherently viewed on a flat 2D screen & lack the first-person experience that a physical prototype offers. Validations for items like ergonomics, reachability, serviceability assessment and several downstream applications like maintenance procedures, machining and manufacturing planning, marketing content still require physical prototypes.

Virtual Prototyping

Virtual & Augmented Reality (VR/AR) is a disruptive technology that provides the experience of a real product without the need to manufacture a physical prototype. This is done using digital devices like VR Goggles which create a real-scale experience for all stakeholders during a design review.

Pros and Cons: Virtual & augmented reality enables real-scale visualization of the product eliminating the need for physical prototypes further. An immersive experience is the closest thing to a physical prototype without the cost and time overheads. VR has been proven to reduce the number of physical prototypes substantially

From physical to digital to virtual, prototyping has come a long way with various significant innovations along the way. Since design is fundamentally an iterative process, there is a clear trend towards minimizing the use of physical prototypes by using digital technologies like Virtual & Augmented Reality.
For a FREE Consultation on how Virtual Prototyping will benefit you…
Epilog: Time & cost analysis for Virtual Prototyping
Physical prototyping costs and the time involved are reiterating for every review cycle and for each new product. Virtual prototyping as an alternative to physical prototyping is a one-time investment. This is a clear opportunity to improve the ROI and ultimately the bottom line for new product development.
Want to calculate how Virtual Prototyping will help reduce your product development cost? Speak to our expert…

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