Additive manufacturing- namely rapid prototyping and 3D printing are advancing by leaps and bounds as the world witnesses new innovations in the fields every day. Due to the cost reduction and time saving rapid prototyping has become such a coveted technology among automotive and aerospace engineers, scientists, medical researchers and even independent hobbyists. In order to give clients the necessary customization and hands on feel, the automobile industry was quick to adopt rapid prototyping. It gives clients lots of control, as they can customize their desired car in any way they want. Besides, the process becomes a lot less expensive and less time consuming. Some traditional methods of assembly line production may bid goodbye very soon with the advancement of rapid prototyping services.
To the layman, automotive prototypes can represent only a single step of the validation process which lies between the initial design phase of the product and the final run of production. However, automotive rapid prototyping can play a number of essential roles during the validation of the design process that ends in final manufacturing. For example, in order to decide what type of materials would be best for a certain product, to determine what kind of equipments should be used and to understand what kind of features would best suit the vehicle; automotive prototypes are created. In other worlds, rapid prototyping has a scope beyond that of a single product development phase in the automotive industry. These are integral parts of the whole process of automobile engineering that enables engineers to decide how to produce new automotive products that have consumer appeal. These steps are critical too from an investment standpoint as they can convince stakeholders to make investments in their new product and to make sure that the finished vehicle would be safe for customers.
In this post, we take a closer look at how automotive prototyping is done during the product development phase.
In the phase of design validation, automotive engineers can use a prototype not only to achieve better clarity regarding their designs and to authenticate what can be made, but also to pitch their concepts to potential investors and stakeholders. In this stage, the prototypes made are not complete and final models. Instead, very preliminary and rough prototypes are created using less expensive techniques of prototyping like plastic injection molding. The preliminary model created using these processes is used for visualizing the final product and communicating ideas across the development team. Of course, designer will typically product 3D designs using CAD software to visualize their concepts.
After the validation of a design there is buy in from production teams and stakeholders. Hence this stage of pre-development needs a better and more precise prototype in order to determine the functionality of the product to be made to smooth over any flaws or challenges in design. This is sometimes referred to by automobile engineers as the mule stage. Engineers at this stage strip the cars down and put the prototypes in the cars for initial beta testing. By using this strategy, the engineers can examine how the automobile prototype created through rapid prototyping fits into the vehicle and behaves in combination with other parts. It gives them a chance to consider the alternative in design that may or may not work better.
After the mule stage is completed, engineers next put the prototypes to use at what’s considered the time of production process validation at the assembly plant. The techniques used in this stage are typically metal stamping, metal fabricating and forming, CNC machining etc. in order to figure out the best methods for creating the final vehicle. By using these prototypes, engineers can find the problems of production and also determine what the most cost effective processes of manufacturing are.
An important part of the production cycle in rapid prototyping is gaining the invaluable feedback from customers or end users. This helps the engineers to pitch their concept to clients, detect possible problems and decide upon the correct materials for the final, finished product. Customers testing through an automotive prototype can in fact, take place during any development stage in the process of production. The obtained feedback from these tests is used in order to figure out how much an automotive product is in demand, whether there will be any problems in using the product or if the product does not appeal to customers as much as expected for any reason.
For an automotive prototype, it is crucial that it undergoes safety testing. This can be performed at any stage or throughout phases of pre production and validation to find possible problems in the automotive vehicle during its actual use. Failure Mode Effect Analysis or FMEA is the name of the safety test during which, the prototypes are put through different scenarios. These include extreme conditions of terrain, weather etc. in order to identify any problems that could potentially cause serious concerns in terms of safety to customers.
Before going into production, there needs to be a prototype developed for the part that is going to be manufactured for a stage called ‘manufacturing validation build’. During this stage, the intended machinery and equipment is used for creating a final prototype of the automobile so that there can be room for the finishing touches before production tooling. In this stage, a small amount of tweaking is done in order to finalize the product. In order to ensure that all the parts are working properly, verification testing is performed using the prototypes created at this phase. If some of these test vehicles pass, they may even be sold to end users.
From this, we can easily understand how important rapid prototyping is for faster and better production of automobiles. The prototypes are refined constantly until there is a consensus or a decision reached regarding the methods of manufacture and product design. By creating prototypes throughout the production life cycle; project teams, manufacturing production staff and stakeholders can work together for concept realization in a cost effective and efficient manner.
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