Selecting A Plastic Product Prototype

Selecting A Plastic Product Prototype

Where Do We Start?

Prototyping is a cost effective start to building a great new product.  We build prototype products for customers in every stage of the development process. Customers can come to HTI directly requesting a product prototype for something they've already designed, or other times they come to us with just a concept for a new product. Many of our customers already know exactly how they want their prototype built and what materials they want to use. We frequently provide our expertise and guidance in making these decisions. We'll tell you everything you need to know about your options up front.

 Different Methods That Deliver Results

Choosing the method for your prototype can be up to you! If you request a certain type of prototype, we'll make it happen. There are 3 types of prototypes, working prototypes, milled prototypes, and STL rapid prototypes. These are the most common, and - in our experience - most effective methods to provide the best balance of performance and cost. When deciding which method to use for your prototype, we'll be asking questions like:

  • Will the prototype need to look and feel exactly like the actual produced product?
  • Will the final product need to be assembled?
  • Do you want to use it as a fully functional part?
  • Does the prototype need to be the same material as the final product, or could another be substituted for form, fit, and function testing?

 Working Prototype

Many of our customers, like medical device companies engaged in clinical trials, need real, functional prototypes that are plastic injection molded just like the final product. To create a working prototype, we build a mold that is very similar to a final production mold. HTI is able to quickly design and build this mold using your initial design, which can be tested and tweaked as your product moves towards production. If the prototype proves you need changes, we'll implement and make more parts to test. These prototype molds will typically be single-cavity molds instead of larger, 4- to 16-cavity production molds. Depending on design, these molds are typically capable of producing couple hundred parts.

 Rapid Prototype

If your needs don't require a fully functional prototype, we can very quickly produce a model using STL, or stereolithography, and have relationships with several companies who specialize in this technology.  STL is much talked-about these days as trendy 3D printing, but it’s a technique we've utilized for some time.  Any complex model can easily be created using STL, but it's not going to be up to final product standards. Tolerances may not be as expected, smaller or thinner features may disappear, and sunshine and moisture can expand or warp the model. In other words, an STL model will represent your product, but you'll have to be careful with it!  Another limitation is you will only get a few parts from this method rather than owning the mold that made the parts like in a working prototype.

Rapid prototyping using STL has obvious use as a vehicle for product visualization and ensure the design is what you intended. The most common reasons to use rapid prototyping are:

  • To increase effective communication
  • To decrease development time
  • To decrease costly mistakes
  • To minimize sustaining engineering changes
  • To extend product lifetime by adding necessary features and eliminating redundant features early in the design

Rapid prototyping decreases development time by allowing corrections to a product to be made early in the process. By giving engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and purchasing a look at the product early in the design process, mistakes can be corrected and changes can be made while they are still inexpensive. These efficiencies can be the determinant of product success in a manufacturing industry that emphasizes an increased number of product variants, increased product complexity, decreasing product lifetime before obsolescence, and decreasing delivery time.

 Milled Prototype

If a particular project demands, we are capable of milling a prototype product, but it must meet certain criteria inMilled prototype geometry and desired material. Materials, tooling for the machines, and setup for milling a prototype can be very costly, so it's generally only used when the final product is very complex,  has several components that need assembling, functionality needs to be tested, and carries a significant retail price.

So why would we use this technique? An example: a sporting goods manufacturer came to us seeking a functional prototype for a new gun stock design. For their prototype, we milled Renshape modeling board that would allow their components to be assembled directly to the stock. The testing for this stock was rigorous, so creating a Renshape model allowed them to complete this phase much more quickly than building a working mold or creating a succession of STL models.

 No Matter What You Choose

The experts at HTI are educated and experienced in determining the best prototype method and material for products of any style and size. We'll ask the right questions, make recommendations, and make a prototype that will contribute to creating a successful final product.