Rapid Prototyping

POSTED BY , Manufacturing, Manufacturing Processes, Prototyping

The climax of any new product design is actually making the product. In the development phase, this can be scary for a number of reasons. Perhaps you’re undecided between several different features or combinations of geometries, or maybe your manufacturing capital is limited. Manufacturing costs, especially in prototype quantities, can add up quickly. Luckily, a technology has developed over the past decade or so that makes prototyping quick and downright affordable. It’s called rapid prototyping, or just “RP”.

The field of rapid prototyping (or RP) has grown tremendously over the past 10 years. RP is essentially a 3D printing process in which a thin slice of your product (typically between .001″ and .005″ thick) is created, and then another layer on top of that, and then another layer on top of that, and so on until your entire part has been built up. This provides you with a geometrically accurate part that can be handled and evaluated. No matter how many views of the product you see in CAD on the computer screen, actually holding the product in your hands is essential to evaluating its form and function.

There are limitations to RP parts, however. Arguably the biggest limitation is the fact that RP materials are much weaker than production materials such as hard plastic or metals. However, the relative speed (usually a couple of days) and low cost (anywhere from $50 to several hundreds of dollars, usually) are such huge advantages over traditional prototyping methods such as soft tool casting or machining that they outweigh the shortcomings of material strength. Besides, RP parts are not meant for full production uses, but rather as a preliminary step to verify your design is accurate and functions properly.

Pipeline has developed strong relationships with local and out-of-state RP vendors and works with them on a regular basis to provide quick prototype to its customers. Contact us here to discuss your project and how RP technologies can help you quickly validate your design.


Low Cost Tooling for Plastic Injection Mold Parts

POSTED BY , Manufacturing, Manufacturing Processes, Prototyping

Those who are making their first foray into product development are often shocked at how expensive it is to develop and manufacture even a simple product. Plastic injection molding is one of the most common manufacturing methods used for mass production of physical products. While the engineering and product development of these products can easily cost $5k – $10k, these development costs can often be just a small fraction of the manufacturing costs. High grade steel is typically used as the material of choice for production-quality plastic injection mold tooling. It is expensive and difficult (read “time intensive/$$$”) to machine. The image below illustrates what a common set of tooling (referred to as the “core” and “cavity” halves) looks like:

Hard Steel Tooling for Plastic Injection Mold

As you can see, the innards of the tools are filled with a variety of features necessary to create the required geometry of the part being molded, and creating this geometry is labor and time intensive, costing anywhere from the low $10ks to more than $100k. The savvy product developer will be reluctant to spend this much capital on tooling for a product design that may not have been fully tested and validated yet. Often times rapid prototyping can be exploited to produce general evaluation parts, but these parts are not as strong as their production-grade parts would be, nor do they have a clean, finished, production-quality appearance. So how do you bridge the gap between cheap, crude “RP” parts and finished, expensive production parts? There is, in fact, a third hybrid approach many people don’t realize exists. It’s called soft tooling (see image below).

Soft Tooling for Plastic Injection Mold

Soft tooling gives you the strength and appearance of production parts without the high tooling costs. Since soft tooling is typically made out of silicone or urethane, the raw material cost is dramatically reduced and the core and cavity geometry is much simpler to make. A set of soft tools can run between $500 to a few thousand dollars depending on the complexity of the part. Your part prices will be higher than the injection molded counterparts since soft tooling typically employs manual labor to pour the plastic resin, but if all you’re looking to do is make half a dozen parts for evaluation or presentation purposes, this will save you A LOT of money.

Pipeline Design & Engineering works with several companies who can provide soft tooling molds that produce production-quality parts. Contact us today to evaluate your project and see how soft tooling can save your project money.


Shapeways 3D Printing

POSTED BY , Prototyping

We recently discovered Shapeways, a 3D printing company that is targeting retail customers but also offers services for engineering and design services like Pipeline. These days there are many different companies that have 3D printing capabilities. What’s interesting about Shapeways is the fact that they have the ability to print METAL pieces, something we had not before seen. This capability would allow our clients to have physically accurate models of their design produced in a high strength metal as opposed to the standard brittle rapid prototyping materials – very cool. You can read more about their processes and products here: www.shapeways.com