Mechanical Engineers require prototypes of their design to ensure that every part of the product is working harmoniously with the others, as well as to weed out the components that don’t work. Choosing the right prototype manufacturer doesn’t have to be a difficult process. Since SoloPoint Solutions works with many mechanical engineers, we wanted to share this great article by ProtoLabs, the world’s fastest source for custom prototypes and low-volume production parts:
In custom prototyping and low-volume part production, 3D CAD models are the start of the conversation. And they are the focal point of the digital thread throughout the design and manufacturing process.
There are various questions to ask of the prototype team. Make sure you have the answers you want before you hire a partner. Here are the answers from ProtoLabs:
1. What types of CAD file formats can be uploaded?
– Injection molding: IGES, STEP, sldprt, prt, x_t, x_b, sat, dwg (3D), ipt and CatPart.
– CNC machining: the same as injection molding plus the stl format.
– 3D printing: stl is the preferred format for instant quotes in stereolithography (SL) and selective laser sintering (SLS), however, we can accept all of the aforementioned formats.
2. What files work best for which application?
– Stl for all 3D printing offerings.
– Neutral formats like IGES and STEP work great, along with native files such as SolidWorks for injection molding and CNC machining.
3. What should I expect from the quoting process?
– Fast response times — quotes are provided with a complete part analysis and cost in a matter of hours.
– 3D printing for SL and SLS processes can receive instant quotes, and direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) or custom finishing processes can receive a quote within 4 hours.
– Quotes for CNC machining typically arrive in 1 to 4 hours depending on part complexity and material selection. You also receive an as-machined analysis illustrating radii, challenging geometries or features that can’t be machined based on tooling availability.
– Quotes for injection molding, which are also available within hours, provide very valuable (and free) design for manufacturability (DFM) feedback. ProtoLabs’ software analyzes draft, part thickness, flow analysis and other design considerations so adjustments can be made before any actual parts are manufactured.
4. What are some common protoyping methods?
– 3D printing offers thermoplastic-like materials using SL, which can produce clear, microfluidic and plated parts that can replace metal components. SL offers a range of material options as well as several finishing choices from plating, painting and polishing.
– 3D printing also uses SLS technology, which provides functional thermoplastic nylon parts that can be used in limited production. DMLS is another 3D printing process, in this case providing metal parts that are used in many industries including aerospace as production parts that can’t otherwise be manufactured.
– CNC machining, whether milling or turning, provides plastic and metal parts that can provide improved material properties over many 3D printing materials and can serve as a bridge between 3D printing and injection molding. Machining is also a great way to have jigs and fixtures produced for any application.
5. What determines the best prototyping method for my part?
This is an extremely difficult question to answer. You first have to ask yourself these questions to begin narrowing down your decision:
– What quantity do you require?
– What material do you need or what properties do you require?
– What is your budget?
– What is your lead time?
– What are your parts’ intended use? Marketing, functional testing, form/fit/function, strict prototype or low-volume production?
For a list of all questions to ask prototype manufacturers, read the full article here. To learn more about our current job openings for mechanical engineering professionals, call us at (408)246-5945 or (714)708-3639.