If you work as a designer, then you know that prototypes are your lifeblood. Clients will often want to see any moderately sophisticated part or design in the flesh, and simple mock-ups may not be good enough. Although 3D printing has made DIY prototyping possible for some smaller-scale projects, most industrial design work still requires prototyping assistance from professional machine shops.
Most design shops don't have fully functional workshops, so it's necessary to contract this work to third parties. Unfortunately, the cost of fabricating one-off designs means that it can be tempting to try to save as much money on this process. While saving money where possible is crucial for any well-run business, this is one area where cutting costs rarely makes sense.
The Costs of Failure
The purpose of any prototype is to prove to a client that your design works as intended. Sketches, CAD models, and mock-ups can provide a useful approximation of a final product, but only a physical prototype can demonstrate its practical value. In many ways, your prototypes need to have tighter tolerances and better overall quality than the final product.
Since most prototypes are one-off creations or limited production runs, they are typically more costly to fabricate than mass-produced products. Working with a metal fabrication shop that cannot guarantee its work or meet your tolerance requirements can potentially mean producing additional, equally costly prototypes in the future. Spending more to get it right the first time is usually much more cost-effective.
Prototypes and the Product Development Lifecycle
Poor prototype quality can also impact your product development lifecycle. Visual and functional prototypes exist to help you identify issues with a product or gauge user or client reactions. These parts must look, feel, and behave as intended to be a useful part of your design process. Fabrication artifacts can obscure design issues or give the appearance of problems where none exist.
For these reasons, it's crucial to work with a reliable and experienced fabrication shop that can produce prototypes that meet your design specifications. The shop you work with should have the capability to provide your design in any material you require, including metal and plastic. This flexibility will allow you to create early or non-functional prototypes in cheaper materials and eventually scale up to metal.
Useful prototypes allow you to iterate on a design while receiving user and client feedback. An experienced, flexible, and reliable fabricator can ensure that your design and prototyping proceeds smoothly, ultimately allowing you to produce a higher quality finished product. For more information about custom metal fabrication for prototypes, contact a local shop.