Spending too much on prototyping? Learn how to save money! – Pt. 1

Here we go! It's that exciting time again, it’s time to start a new project. This time however, things must be different. The last project didn’t follow the schedule accordingly; the team wasn’t as efficient as it could be, and you’ve surpassed the intended budget. As a manager or lead engineer you are concerned, and you have every right to be; it’s extremely important to stay on schedule and on budget in a product development environment. One design stage that is often overlooked by managers and engineers alike is the prototype stage. The reason for this is because the focus in this stage becomes mainly around testing the design at any cost. No one wants to take any risks in testing the product accurately, and they shouldn’t, but there are certainly ways to ensure efficient design and product validation without spending too much time and money in the prototype stage. In this two-part article, we will explore 5 different strategies that could help with such a task.

Follow Digital Prototyping Methods:

Before even thinking of manufacturing a physical prototype, it's important to know that there are CAD and Simulation Software at the disposal of your engineers to perform what is called, “Digital Prototyping”. These tools should be used throughout the design stage, and before manufacturing, to validate and optimize the performance of the design.

save money Prototyping 1

Depending on the type and functionality of the product that you are designing as well as its field of application, different types of simulation software are available for use. In the case of a PCB design project, for example, where the PCB is housed in an enclosure, it would be beneficial to run SPICE (Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis). Running SPICE in the electrical design stage will ensure all electrical signal are as expected and within a specified range. Following this stage, the PCB can then be assembled with the enclosure using a CAD Modeling Tool. Using a CAD Modeling Tool will detect any interference in the assembly. Finally, after ensuring the perfect fit, it's important that the PCB is cooled properly and that enough air flow reaches certain components. In this case, flow simulation will come in handy. This simulation software relieve companies and design life cycles from an unproductive iterative process of going back and forth between manufacturing and design. Therefore, saving money and time. As demonstrated, CAD Tools are essential for a successful and efficient design process. Choosing the right software should be valued at a high regard. It's important to understand what simulation packages are available with the CAD tools that you purchase. SolidWorks, for example, offers a diverse set of CAD tools in various industries, to help engineers and designers take designs from sketches to production. It offers Mechanical CAD, Electrical CAD, PCB CAD, FEA (Finite Element Analysis), CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics), and more.

Use Desktop Printers:

In a lot of cases, whether for demonstration or testing, designs still need to be prototyped. Simulation and CAD tools can certainly reduce the frequency of prototyping. However, if a physical copy is required, it may be helpful to consider prototyping in-house. Producing your prototypes whether from a 3D-printing house or a machining facility, etc., can cost thousands of dollars. Depending on the complexity of design and quantity, investing in a good quality 3D printer can pay off.

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Hobbyist and prototyping printers have drastically improved in accuracy and reduced in price over the years. Technological breakthroughs in the additive manufacturing field have made it possible to print parts with high detail and low tolerance. It's therefore important to investigate the various printing technologies available to get an understanding of their capabilities and limitations. We will briefly mention some of the desktop printing technologies currently available. A more detailed breakdown can be found here.

Desktop Printer Technologies
  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)The most popular 3D printing technology. Plastic support material is pushed through a heated nozzle, melted, and then deposited layer by layer on the build platform.
  • Stereolithography (SLA): One of the oldest 3D printing methods. Photosensitive liquid resin solidifies as the build platform moves vertically and the resin is subjected to a UV-laser beam.
  • Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM): This unique printing method works by layering adhesive-coated paper/plastic on top of each other. The layers are fused and cut layer by layer with the use of a heated roller to fuse, and a laser beam to cut into the material.

Given that we could acquire different structural, thermal, and other mechanical properties depending on the materials we use, it's important to consider the material handling capabilities of 3D printers. Two of the most popular 3D printing materials include ABS and PLA.

However, there is also a wide range of materials to use depending on the printer at hand. Nylon is another popular choice as well. Some printers, such as the Markforged desktop printers, are capable of printing fiber materials, such as Fiberglass, Kevlar, HSHT Fiberglass, etc. Depending on the application and environment required, a wide material choice can be essential. So far, we have covered two major strategies that could drastically improve your team’s design workflow and reduce overall costs in the prototype stage. If you found this article helpful, please look forward to the second part where we will cover three more useful strategies.


Taha Ramy, CID, B.ASc. Electrical Applications Specialist

CAD MicroSolutions Inc. 65 International Boulevard, Toronto ON, M9W 6L9 Canada

tramy@cadmicro.com | T: (416) 775-9733