In the competitive business world of today, companies must be able to respond to demands instantly. They need to find methods or ways to speed up production, ensuring that products can hit the market on time. One area where this is important is in building prototypes.
Across different industries, engineers that design and manufacture products require custom prototypes for checking, testing and other technical purposes. Prototyping is often required as an important part in the process of releasing a new product design.
What is a Prototype?
A prototype is a model or sample of how a product will look like when it is finished. It is used as a form of testing for a concept or process and to evaluate a new design. It provides specifications for a real, working, and practicable system against a theoretical one.
Prototyping can be made in different ways, the most popular being 3D printing and CNC machining.
Machining is a process where raw materials are made into shapes of different sizes by a process of controlled removal. This is either by use of a manual method where a skilled machinist cuts a workpiece using manual tools or by use of a computer numerical control (CNC) machine through a process of subtractive manufacturing. You can learn more about machining here.
CNC machining is important as it allows for the speedy production of prototypes and end-use parts. It is a manufacturing process where computer inputs are used to control machining tools like lathes, cutters, and drills. It is widely used because of its versatility, consistency, and accuracy. It is equally compatible with a wide range of materials such as metals, wood, plastic, composites, and aluminum which is one of the most commonly used material.
The process begins with the use of CAD software to create a 3D design. The computer easily translates into a series of instructions known as G-code to the machine’s cutting tools. Very little intervention or supervision is needed once the instructions are sent to the machine. With the G-code, the machine understands when and where to cut. This helps save time as well as costs when compared to having a machinist use manually operated tools to cut into a workpiece.
The CNC machine uses a subtractive process meaning that it removes materials from the workpiece rather than introducing new material. The machine cuts sections of the formless material away leaving a finished part. Excess material is then discarded or recycled.
Prototyping and CNC Machining
For its speed, versatility, and quick turnaround time, CNC machining is a useful method for creating prototypes.
Prototypes may have different functions and can take different forms. They usually exist to show and convey visual information on how a product will look or behave after it is produced in an inexpensive way. A completed prototype is used as proof of concept or as a guide for research and development to assess and verify a test design before it proceeds to the next stage of manufacturing.
Although a lot of people consider 3D printing to be dominant when it comes to making quick prototypes due to recent advances in technology as well as low prices and availability, however using CNC machining in some cases has a number of benefits over 3D printing. Usually, the choice of which to use is dependent on the type of prototype that is desired.
Benefits of Using CNC Machining
CNC machining can be a great choice but the kind of prototype to be made, its purpose, the material it would be made from as well as the material the final part will be made of often will determine its suitability. Some of its advantages include the following:
- It delivers a better and consistent finished product with a quality surface while also providing savings on cost and time.
- It has few material limitations. Models can be made from a wide array of engineering-grade materials with high strength. This covers from metals to foam to fiberglass and so on. These materials have mechanical properties that allow for functional testing.
- It can be used to remove large amounts of materials easily and quickly with high precision and tight tolerances. It is quite easy to achieve +/- 0.01mm with CNC and even 5-axis machines can achieve +/- 0.005mm.
- The model produced is similar and closely looks like the final product. Some prototypes are not only meant for visual representation. Asides from looking like the final product, they function like it too, behaving as close to the real thing as possible. This type of models that are required to have characteristics such as mechanical stability and strength are often best produced by CNC machining.
Getting Your Prototypes Made
As a business, you may choose to invest in CNC machines to create your prototypes but keep in mind that it can be quite an expensive investment. It also requires a skilled operator to work with the machines and ensure the process is smooth. If you are not a business that needs to churn out prototypes on a very regular basis, then it may be much better to utilize professional prototyping services.
A quick turnaround machine shop will have a wide variety of equipment that will enable them easily and rapidly produce prototypes using different tools and techniques. They will also be able to provide recommendations and guidance as to the methods and techniques that should be used at any given time to achieve the best results.
Designers and engineers who work in the manufacturing industry depend on prototypes to ascertain how a product or part will eventually turn out. It is important that these models are churned out as quickly as possible to meet business and markets timelines as well as objectives. As we have seen in this article, technology has made it quite easy to achieve.
While we made a few recommendations in this article, your situation may be unique. It is therefore important that you get in touch with professionals for further assistance. By working with professionals, in no time you can get your components completed to specs and delivered.