Everything You Need to Know About CNC and Rapid Prototyping

The hardware startup landscape is now filled with new players, exciting innovations, and products that make customers happy. There is one particular reason why there are more new hardware-based startups being founded than ever before: rapid prototyping.

Rapid prototyping is the process of creating working prototypes from 3D models. Thanks to technologies like 3D printing and CNC machining, transforming ideas into tangible prototype that can be tested is a lot simpler and more affordable.

3D printing

This means that even small, home businesses can come up with a brilliant product idea and actually take that idea to its mature state. Combined with third-party manufacturing lines now offering manufacturing services, tangible products are a lot easier to produce.

Before you can get to production, however, you still have to create a prototype, build tooling for fabrication, and complete other steps. Once again, CNC and rapid prototyping are the technologies to use in these phases, and here is everything you need to know about them.

You Don’t Need a CNC Machine

CNC machines are capable of creating shapes and complex designs from materials like stainless steel, wood, and aluminum. However, you don’t have to invest in large CNC machines to start your own project. CNC machining services are now available online and you can order the prototypes or custom items you need in an instant.

Online CNC machining requires you to send a design for your order, and there are several supported formats. Service providers like rapiddirect.com will take your design and transform it into a format that the CNC machine can recognize before proceeding with production. The firm can provide you with a seamless service that makes it easy and cost-effective to pass over a CAD or 2D drawing alongside specifications and then receive quality finished products that you can rely on. 

The available CNC services from Rapid Direct are accessible by everyone. While you can go into the details and use a CAD software to design your item, you can also ask for assistance if you want to go the simpler route due to the lack of technical knowledge.

Order from Anywhere

Since online CNC services are, well, available online, you don’t have to stick to local providers to produce your prototypes or one-off items. This means you have more options when it comes to finding services that suit your budget and requirements.

CNC machining China companies are immensely competitive when it comes to pricing. Even after the shipping and handling costs, you still save a substantial amount. CNC services China providers are also easy to work with, since the design files are basically standardized.

The only downside to anticipate is shipping time. Using standard shipping, it usually takes around 7 to 14 days for the CNC prototyping result to be delivered to your door. As long as you take into account the shipping time, you are free to order CNC services from any provider that suits you best.

More Than One-Off Items

CNC machines are capable of creating complex items from a design file. There is no limit as to the kind of design you can create or the level of complexity the machine can handle. Modern CNC machines are actually capable of producing one-off items with immense accuracy and details.

However, CNC isn’t just useful for producing one-off items. You can also use CNC to do rapid tooling for mass production. You can go a step further and use CNC in conjunction with other technologies such as 3D printing in order to produce molds for mass production.

When you need to create custom tooling for mass production, CNC is the technology to use. Your production molds will have incredible accuracy and an unrivaled level of detail, which means the finished products will also be of high quality. 

The technology goes beyond prototype manufacturing.

Not Just CNC

In an ideal project, the entire prototype can be created in a single CNC cycle. The same is expected from 3D printing, especially now that materials like wood and stainless steel or aluminum are also supported. You will be able to create complex shapes within hours.

Unfortunately, some projects still require manual handling. Some degree of manual processing is needed to augment what the CNC machine can do. When shapes need to be bent, for example, sheet metal fabrication techniques are used to support the CNC runtime.

As older technologies are used and improved regularly, we also have sheet metal prototyping being offered as a service. For simpler shapes – such as the case for your IoT device – CNC is not really required. Sheet metal prototyping becomes the more efficient solution.

Prototyping as a Process

What’s interesting about the presence of technologies like 3D printing and CNC is how businesses now really embrace prototyping as part of their product development process. In the old days, businesses tend to shy away from producing real prototypes until they are absolutely needed (I.e. for testing or certification). There are some drawbacks to this approach.

For starters, faults and potential product design failures cannot always be detected in 3D environments. While 3D testing has gotten more advanced, real-world testing is still needed to make sure that the product design is sound enough for mass production. Rapid prototyping services make this a possibility.

Prototyping is also good for the customers, since product designers can immediately test customer experience and how they potentially interact with the product in the future. Even before the product is manufactured and shipped to customers, corrections and improvements can be added to the product design.

It May Not Work

Never expect your first prototype to work out of the box. Despite the detailed design and careful planning, many things can still go wrong with the prototype produced through rapid means like 3D printing. For starters, the materials may not be strong enough for testing (I.e. plastic compound with low integrity).

Due to the way CNC machines work, some designs may not be applicable at all. For instance, you may have to add strengthening bars to a case you want to machine out of a block of aluminum in order to maintain its rigidity.

What’s needed is a willingness to bridge the gap between rapid prototyping and production. By taking into account the difference in material strength, design improvements that may be needed to accommodate limitations, and user experience as a key factor, rapid prototyping becomes a powerful weapon in your product development arsenal.

It Starts with 3D

If you want to fully take advantage of rapid prototyping, your product development process needs to happen in a robust 3D environment. This way, the 3D model can be transformed into data for prototype machining with minimum effort.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of 3D product design tools to help you. Board design tools now let you simulate part clearance and case design in complete 3D. Tools like CAD and renderer work seamlessly with each other, allowing you to transition from technical design to 3D prototyping within the same process.

Even better, there are plugins and modules that make creating CNC-ready models easy. Simply work with your service provider in understanding the formats you need to use for rapid prototyping; you can also receive assistance in fine-tuning your delivery format for better outputs.

These are the things you need to know about CNC and 3D printing for rapid prototyping. Now that you know how to fully take advantage of the new technologies, you can focus on designing products that customers will truly love, and developing those products until they reach the intended customers.

About Carson Derrow

My name is Carson Derrow I'm an entrepreneur, professional blogger, and marketer from Arkansas. I've been writing for startups and small businesses since 2012. I share the latest business news, tools, resources, and marketing tips to help startups and small businesses to grow their business.

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