The 3 Biggest Trends in Prototyping Processes in 202309 March 2023
Thorough, effective and exciting prototyping lies at the very beginning of all successful manufacturing operations.
It marks the pivotal transition from an abstract idea in an engineer’s mind to a physical, tangible object to be held and scrutinised. The triumph of a prototype is the first triumph of the end product.
Consequently, it is no wonder that the methods used in the prototyping phase of product development have themselves, ironically, gone through several iterations themselves.
Industry 4.0 has well and truly permeated the manufacturing sphere, and the modes by which we go about prototyping are no less influenced. At the same time, the interpersonal methods by which manufacturers are approaching design creativity and refinement are also undergoing shifts.
In this article, we’ve pinpointed three of the most pertinent trends in prototyping as we firmly settle into 2023.
1 – Innovation as a Service
In an audit of 2022 prototyping trends by Orderfox, the rise of ‘innovation as a service’ was identified as an emerging phenomenon. Let’s delve into what this means for product design.
Rather than hosting ideation sessions through an in-house team, more and more companies are seeking out external support in developing their products, “from the initial idea, to testing with the target group”.
A number of factors have amplified the effectiveness of this development approach. Firstly, digitisation has made connections between disparate organisations increasingly simple, making the back-and-forth exchange of ideas more feasible on a wider scale.
Furthermore, with more digital solutions for testing, designing and producing permeating the market, a higher degree of prototyping expertise is beginning to surface. Businesses without time to develop that knowledge themselves may find this mode of development increasingly attractive.
Secondly, there is straightforwardly and excitingly more that can be done than ever before where design for product development is concerned. With manufacturing technologies like 3D printing undergoing continuous refinement, opening up new geometries, materials and use-cases, there is more design space to cover.
As CEO of The Barnes Global Advisors John Barnes discusses in AMFG’s recent interview with him, materials development alone gives designers “a new tool set”; “we’re enabling the designer to go back and rethink, for example, how the inside of a car should look”. The playing field is wide open – to optimise what’s now possible, seeking guidance from experts is certainly a reliable way to go.
‘Innovation’ is shifting from being an abstract descriptor for creativity and development, and is taking on a new, commercial meaning where prototyping is concerned.
2 – Prototyping’s Digitisation
With more design possibilities unfolding comes more demand for the ‘rapid’ aspect of rapid prototype production. For growing businesses to conduct exploration quickly and efficiently, keeping their competitive edge sharp, and to keep track of their various product iterations, a means of effective management is essential. Increasingly, companies are turning to digital solutions for an answer.
Particularly, solutions that can offer smooth links between each and every stage in the creation of a prototype – from electing an initial design to initiating the chosen manufacturing process – can help businesses to settle into a comfortable, streamlined groove of productivity.
AMFG’s workflow and automation solution supports precisely this mode of digital process enhancement. With in-platform messaging functionalities, allowing users to annotate and comment on CAD models, creating space for constructive discussion about design and manufacturing methods.
AMFG’s ordering portal allows customers outsourcing their prototyping to send designs to production in seconds, as frequently as their development process requires. In production, manufacturing can be tracked on an individual basis, ensuring that each nuanced prototype is produced in time for its purpose to be fulfilled and development projects to press forward.
AMFG’s MES is just one example of the numerous digital tools being employed to boost prototyping. The transition from 2022 to 2023 witnessed a spike in AI sophistication, most notable with the release of OpenAI’s image generator, DALL-E.
According to an ENNOSTUDIO article, the software can “allow designers to very quickly iterate different ideas during the design process […] [t]he right implementation of the program would certainly streamline the journey and workflow needed to make a successful product”. With its trademark ability to create hundreds of interpretations of user-generated prompts, the principle at the heart of prototyping has here taken on an entirely new scope of possibility.
3 – Redefining Prototyping’s Placement
Testing out different approaches to a product’s design, though conventionally most practised at the beginning of the production life-cycle, can become necessary at every stage.
Whether an unforeseen design fault is identified later down the line – perhaps the details of a part intended for CNC machining could not physically be machined subtractively – or whether numerous components are designed at different stages, there are many reasons why prototyping might reappear throughout operations.
However, with the genesis of new technologies, prototyping processes are earning more use-cases at every operational stage of production than ever before.
Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and 3D scanning technologies are pushing the boundaries of when a part is considered ‘finished’.
According to research conducted by PwC, the use of VR and AR in product development could deliver a whopping $360 billion GDP boost by 2030. A large proportion of this revenue comes from the immense time-savings these technologies are able to introduce during design ideation and troubleshooting stages.
Rather than producing many different physical prototypes, manufacturers can emulate the mechanical properties of a design in augmented or virtual reality and make alterations almost immediately. Parts can be brought to life in a matter of minutes, whilst the decision to create a physical copy can be reserved for more select purposes.
With prototyping becoming digitally accessible, it is more possible than ever to make design adjustments and develop ideas at every stage of the production process.
3D scanning, on the other hand, can bring end-products back to the prototyping stage in an instant. Equipping lasers to capture the dimensions of physical objects, 3D scanners have powerfully streamlined the reverse engineering process, making it possible to digitally recreate a pre-existing part in a short period of time.
Particularly in the case of obsolete parts no longer in production, or those which have no associated design file, 3D scanners allow designers to capture and rework on objects that said goodbye to factories and workshops long ago.
Prototyping the Prototyping Process
The term ‘prototyping’ dates back to the ancient Greek prōtotypon, “a first or primitive form”. By nature, its performance defines a starting point which predicts the eventual existence of an end point.
However, innovation surrounding the processes used to prototype are themselves perpetually unfolding, working not towards an end point, but instead towards further and further iterations. In fact, in this context, iteration is the end point.
2023 has witnessed the introduction and reinforcement of innovative practice – this overarching trend is not likely to lose steam any time soon, if ever.
With so many new opportunities presenting themselves in this field, striking up a strategic balance between cutting-edge ideation and tight management of production is one of the most important aspects to achieving success.
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