These points can help inform your future prototype machining and product development decisions
Thanks to the development of modern technologies, there are more options than ever when it comes to prototyping. Recently, additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing) has become a popular method for rapid prototyping because of its on-demand approach and relatively low cost. Despite this, machining processes are still a highly valuable prototyping process that should not be overlooked. In many cases, prototype machining actually offers advantages over 3D printing and other prototyping techniques.
Read on to see why machining is particularly well suited to prototyping applications across all industries. The following points can help inform your future prototyping and product development decisions. For additional details about a specific project’s cost or lead times, please feel free to contact us at RapidDirect, or use our automated online quoting engine.
- High Accuracy and Consistency
The first, and arguably most critical, advantage of prototype machining is the process’ superior accuracy and consistency. CNC machining is known to have some of the highest achievable tolerances of any manufacturing technology and is well-known for its incredible reliability and consistency. In terms of accuracy, CNC machining can manufacture prototypes within a fraction of a millimeter (±0.025 mm).
Looking at metal prototyping especially, prototype machining is much for effective, both in terms of accuracy and cost (many metal AM systems are still prohibitively expensive). In the case of tolerances, most metal additive manufacturing systems have an accuracy of just ± 0.200 mm. For a full breakdown of the benefits of CNC machining for metal prototyping compared to metal 3D printing read our blog post.
2. Functional Prototyping
Another important benefit of choosing to use machining for your prototyping and product development is that it can produce prototypes that are similar (or even identical) to end-use components. This enables functional testing and evaluation. In other words, CNC machining lets the customer prototype their product using the end-use material, which means it can undergo testing to determine the quality and viability of the design. Since machined parts are built from a solid piece of material, they also bear similar mechanical properties to injection molded components.
Further, prototype machining puts the physical prototype into the designer or customer’s hands. Compared to a digital prototype, this has many advantages as a physical prototype is the best way to find design flaws. With a functional prototype, designers and engineers can quickly identify and fix problems, while also demonstrating to customers and stakeholders how the final product will look, feel, and function.
3. Flexible material and finishing options
Following on the previous advantage of functional prototyping, CNC machining is also one of the manufacturing processes with the most material options. This means that customers can easily order prototypes made from the same material as the eventual end-use parts, whether it is metal, plastic or another material type. Contrastingly, with 3D printing, material options are limited, which means that prototypes must often be made from whatever material is available rather than what is most advantageous. Evidently, having a broad range of prototyping material options enables functional prototyping.
In addition to material versatility, prototype machining also has the benefit of being compatible with several finishing options, including anodizing, bead blasting, powder coating, electroplating, polishing, brushing, and painting. Though it may not be necessary to use finishing processes for every prototype (for instance, a first prototype might not require a high finish quality), it is highly advantageous if a customer requires a prototype with high visual appearance. This feature is especially valuable for the prototyping and production of consumer products.
The icing on top of the cake with prototype machining is that it is one of the best processes for transitioning seamlessly into final production. Once a customer is satisfied with a prototype—whether it is the first or tenth iteration—all the aforementioned advantages pay off because the customer will essentially be looking at their final product. The high accuracy and consistency of CNC machining ensure that a prototype can be reproduced exactly when it is time to move into final production. And if you prototype using your intended end-use material, the transition is even easier.
Even if the final component is to be mass produced using injection molding, machining still ensures seamless production: machined prototypes have similar properties to injection molded components, and tooling can itself be produced using CNC machining. At RapidDirect, we help our customers move from prototyping to final production with ease and confidence. Our machining capabilities, broad material selection and versatile finishing options allow our customers to exploit the full benefits of prototype machining, while our injection molding and tooling production services ensure a seamless transition to production.
Rapid Direct is one of the leading prototyping machining services in China thanks to its extensive manufacturing capacity and skilled team of experts. RapidDirect’s prototype machining service consists of 200 units of 3, 4 and 5-axis CNC machines, as well as extensive auxiliary equipment. Our company is specialized in delivering quick-turnaround and high quality prototypes, as well as higher volume production of thousands of parts.