If you are developing something from the ground up or trying to improve a product, after the ideation process, you’ll need a prototype. That is a challenge people have to overcome if they are going to have a shot at success. Contract manufacturers generally aren’t set up to make prototypes or awkward quantities of products. Laut Design is set up and specialized in that process. Mike Laut, Founder and CEO of Laut Design, explained how to understand, speak, and leverage prototyping and manufacturing process terms to better understand how products are made. He truly provided ‘A Cheatsheet on Prototyping and Manufacturing” during their recent Lunch & Learn with RIoT. I highly recommend taking the time to watch it on demand.
Understanding the characteristics of different types of materials and the processes used to create with them is knowledge that can empower an inventor and entrepreneur. Looking at plastics, metal, and composites, Mike examined what to consider when designing and selecting a material. Plastics are everywhere and in prototyping they are a great tool. Injection molding of plastics is a way to take a cad drawing and the geometry of a product and create a mould. Then using raw plastics, they are melted down and ‘injected’ into the mould to create a product. Injection moulding is generally expensive and the physical mould itself is much larger than the actual product it’s making, so does not make sense for most companies. Though, desktop versions of injection moulding machines are becoming more popular making it feasible for small, incomplete products. For some other prototypes and products, extrusion (think how pasta is made), blow moulding (used for hollow moulding- think plastic bottles), thermoforming (containers and trays), or rotomoulding (best for large hollow products) are other options for working with plastics.
Metals are another great material to consider for prototyping and manufacturing. Machining is a generic term for working with metal and various other materials. There are a couple of common machines used for this that perform different functions. Milling is essentially using a spinning cutter that you crash into a block of metal to subtract. Mills come in a variety of forms and factors that can use used for various aspects of machining a raw piece of metal. Casting is another option for working with metal. This process involves pouring molten metal into a mould. Forging and bending are options to use as well depending on the design of the end product.
Composites materials are made from two or more constituent materials that have different physical or chemical properties. When you combine those two materials it will produce a new material with different characteristics from the individual components. Fiberglass, plywood, and carbon fiber are great examples of composites. When thinking about manufacturing and prototyping, fiberglass becomes a great material to work with. Fiberglass can be draped over anything and covered in an epoxy resin, which tends to lend itself to creating organic and flowing shapes. It tends to be very strong and cost effective, which can make it an ideal material for prototyping.
Mike broke it down to a basic understanding of what it means to work with specific materials. He looked at it from a cost perspective, ease of use, and reliability. While working with someone to help you create a working prototype is often essential, understanding what materials may work best will only help your design in the long run.