Interview with Amy Li
Sales Director of RPWORLD
High-mix, low-volume manufacturing, and prototyping
Amy talks about the importance of prototyping and how various types of prototypes support product development and manufacturing processes. As some of our Hubbers readers are new to the world of manufacturing, we start with the very basics:
1. What is prototyping and what kind of processes are involved?
A prototype is an early sample, release, or model of a product built to test a concept or process. Prototyping allows inventors to ensure that their product looks and functions precisely how they want it. There are two different types of prototypes:
• Appearance verification prototype: it is a 3D design that shows how exactly the final product should look. During this stage of the development, we use the prototype for visual representation. Once it is produced, this product is often used to find funding and convince distributors about a future purchase. The prototype may also be finished and decorated to provide an accurate visual of the product or part of the product.
• Engineering validation prototype: this version allows the inventor for mechanical testing, confirm raw materials, and do various functional testings. We can double confirm all dimensions, and it also helps to decide about the real materials to use. Lastly, with this prototype, the inventor can collect feedback on how to optimize it from the production point of view, and it helps to reduce the future production risks and costs. The prototype can be created out of plastic, aluminum, magnesium, or most other metals. There are various production processes involved such as 3D printing, CNC machining, vacuum casting or even rapid/trial tooling. The choice depends on the requirement of the project.
2. How does prototyping work?
We need a 3D design file in the format of stp. or ips. Once we have that, in the next step we evaluate the design and find out more background information about the project: what is the product development stage, what is the reason the client needs the prototype. Based on the budget and requirements we recommend production processes, raw and real materials to be used, lead time, and cost.
3. How do you help with research and product development
We regard ourselves as a product development partner for our customers. We aim to be involved from the early stages of product development to be able to provide optimized design suggestions for higher volume production, to help pick the right production process and materials. Which, in return, ensures that products launch on the markets as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.
4. Who are your clients?
Our clients are mainly R&D-based clients from Europe and North America. Industries are primarily scientific instrument, medical device, consumer electronics and automotive.
5. What is the standard timeline of prototyping?
After the 3D design is received, we sign an agreement, and we arrange the production. A simple prototyping project takes around 3-7 days depending on materials used and specifications.
Once the prototype is ready, we produce anywhere from a few pieces to a couple of hundreds of samples. This amount is small enough not to waste money while it allows our clients to market testing.
6. Are there avoidable mistakes that customers often make?
Yes, sometimes the designers are solely focused on the function of the product or the market requirements, and they forget to pay attention to production optimization. Our task is finding the balance between cost and design requirements.
7. How many sets of prototypes do you normally produce per product development?
This depends on the project. Generally, we prefer to go step-by-step and create the Appearance Prototype first. This helps us to do a quick check on the overall design. The second step should be the Engineering Prototype. Afterward, we can still do more tests once there is adequate feedback from the market.
8. What were the most interesting or challenging prototypes that you have worked with?
We have produced many different kinds of prototypes. One of the most challenging (and exciting) jobs was when we had to create a real-life show car: the car had to look exactly the same as the real one. It consisted of 1,000 different parts, and the plastic and metal parts needed a lot of different types of finishing to make it look real.
9. What is your advice for Hubbers inventors when it comes to prototyping?
- It is important to find the right source for prototyping. The clients need to be clear with their own requirements: if it is for a startup company, they need rapid response. For a medium size company, they need to focus on the long-term corporation and risk management. For Top 500 companies, we offer one-stop-solutions for everything including material quality control.
- Calculate time and expectations well; standard materials are readily available, and accessible, however when a client needs specific, customized materials, the timeframe gets longer, and that has to be considered ahead of the production.
**Amy can assist in product prototyping and engineering, 3D printing, manufacturing (injection molding, CNC machining, vacuum casing), and product development related questions. **