Which manufacturing method is best for your rapid prototype?

CNC Machining, Additive Manufacturing, or Injection Molding: Which Is Best for Your Rapid Prototype?

Which is best for your rapid prototype?From pitching your next big idea to investors to patenting an innovative design, prototyping is an essential part of the product development cycle. It allows you to test the feasibility and functionality of your concept before it hits the market. Whether you’re crafting a brand-new product or refreshing an existing item, prototypes help you test your idea and fix potential flaws early in the development phase.

Keep in mind the prototyping method you choose is critical to the outcome of your final product. Different methods yield different results. Before taking a concept to an engineer, it’s important to learn the different prototype manufacturing processes to ensure the one selected works best for your project. Explore how CNC manufacturing, additive manufacturing, and injection molding work to ensure your team chooses the ideal method for your prototype.


CNC Machined Parts

One of the most utilized manufacturing techniques for prototyping and low-volume production, Computer Numerical Controls (CNC) machining is a subtractive process. It allows engineers to create functioning prototypes with complicated geometries by removing layers from blocks of material. Using mechanical, electrical, chemical, or thermal processes, CNC machines use a computer-aided design file to meticulously carve through a wide variety of materials, including:

  • Polypropylene
  • Aluminum
  • Stainless steel
  • Wood
  • Foam
  • Composites
  • And more…

This technique also offers several finishing options, yielding prototypes that look much like the final product.


Additive Manufacturing

Better known as 3D printing, additive manufacturing is a rapid prototyping method that yields a design very similar to the eventual final product. Two common techniques used include HP Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) and Stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing. Additive manufacturing is ideal for designs that would otherwise be nearly impossible to cut using a subtractive manufacturing process, such as:

  • Medical devices
  • Highly specialized fixtures
  • Automotive lighting
  • Custom parts
  • And more…

HP MJF is commonly used for rapid prototyping and final part production. This technique offers exceptional lead times, so you can produce a wide range of parts and prototypes on a tight timeline. Materials used include PA 11 and PA 12, as well as polypropylene.

Similarly, SLA is a highly precise 3D printing process used for prototyping and low-volume production applications. It can also be used to create intricate molds for urethane casting. This 3D printing process uses highly rigid materials for a durable final product.


Injection Molding

Designed for consistency and quality, this method uses a mold to create your prototype. First, a sturdy metal mold is crafted. Molten materials are then injected into this mold where they cool and solidify into your final product. Materials commonly used for this technique include:

  • Polypropylene
  • Nylon
  • Santoprene
  • TPE
  • HDPE
  • And more…

From consumer products to automotive prototyping, injection molding suits a wide range of applications. With the ability to create hundreds of models with a single mold, this technique ensures seamless results from start to finish.


Things to Keep in Mind for Your Rapid Prototype

Before selecting a prototyping process, there are several considerations to make. Here are a few things to keep in mind prior to meeting with a prototyping engineer:

Do you have a material-dependent design?
The type of materials you use can affect cost, functionality, and longevity. Considering the materials you need to create your prototype and possible finishing options can lead you to the most effective process.

What's your timeline?
Some prototyping processes take a few weeks, while others take as little as 12 hours. If you’re working with a time-sensitive project, considering a method with a low lead time can help streamline your development cycle.

How much room is in your budget?
Analyze costs prior to the prototyping phase. From the number of prototypes you’ll need to the materials used in manufacturing, a professional can help you find the most cost-efficient solutions for your project.


When to Call an Expert

Seeking help from the beginning can help optimize the product development cycle, saving you valuable time, effort, and capital in the end. After your team comes up with a design and puts the idea to paper (or computer), the prototyping process can begin. Reach out to a prototype engineer to discuss how you want your product to look and how it’s supposed to function.

Depending on the complexity, material, and quantity of your production needs, a professional can advise on which rapid prototyping process is best for your project. What’s more, an expert engineer can also help you improve upon your original design. While you may have your own ideas of the product’s aesthetic, functionality, and construction, prototyping engineers can offer sound suggestions on how to achieve the best possible version of your concept.

Get Started with Advantage Engineering

Let us help you bring your ideas to life. Our team of professionals can walk you through each prototyping process to find the one that serves your needs best – whether you need help with one of the processes we mentioned above or processes such as urethane casting and silicone tooling which can also produce optimal parts for various end use scenarios. Receive a rapid quote on your project through our online platform or contact an expert to learn more about our injection molding, additive manufacturing, or CNC machining services.