The key to making your product stand out amongst the rest and having a competitive advantage through utilizing quick prototyping to produce parts to check and make sure the components fit and work as they should. This will help you beat your competition by getting your design to market quicker.


Depending on the outcome of your testing and analysis, adjustments can be made in the following areas:

  • Assembly
  • Color
  • Design
  • Manufacturability
  • Materials
  • Size
  • Shape
  • Strength

There are a wide variety of rapid prototyping processes that today’s product design teams can utilize. Rapid prototyping processes is an appropriate manufacturing method for structures that have excessive geometric complexity and have a lot of undercut features that cannot be fabricated simply with traditional manufacturing methods. With that being said, traditional manufacturing methods are still used to create prototypes, while recently additional technologies have been seen.

There are many different ways prototypes can be created. Just like any industry, prototyping processes are constantly changing. This causes product designers to have to continuously figure out which method or technology will be best suited for their unique function.

We’ll Be Covering:

  • Advantages and disadvantages of all the leading prototyping processes.
  • Discusses material properties of parts created by certain prototype options.
  • Provides process descriptions.
  • Provides insight on key questions designers need to think about when picking the top prototyping process.

The goal of this is to help you feel comfortable and confident in selecting the ultimate prototyping process to fit the needs of your product development cycle.

Computer Numerically Controlled Machining (CNC)

This manufacturing process involves a pre-programmed computer software that determines the movement of the industry tools and machinery. This process controls a wide variety of complex machinery including gingers, lathes, mills, and routers. CNC machining is done with raw stock being clamped into a CNC mill or lathe and then cut into a finished product through a subtracting process. This method of production typically yields greater force and surface finish compared to additive manufacturing processes like 3D printing. Due to it being prepared from solid blocks of compression modeled thermoplastic resin it has all the properties of plastic. This is different than most additive processes because they use plastic-like materials and are constructed in layers. Providing a range of material choices permits the segments to be created with preferred material properties like impact resistance, tensile strength, heat deflection temperatures, chemical resistance, and biocompatibility. Decent tolerances enable segments to be appropriate for fit and functional testing, jigs and fixtures as well as working parts for end-use application. Numerous manufactures use 3-axis and 5-axis indexed milling processes. They also use manufacture parts in a variety of engineering-grade plastics and metals.


  • Machine parts have excellent surface finishes.
  • Machined parts are strong due to the usage of thermoplastics and metals.
  • Depending on the supplier, custom prototypes can be supplied quickly with one day turn around.


  • Geometry limitations related to CNC machining.
  • More costly to do this in house as opposed to 3D printing processes.
  • Milling undercuts can be challenging.


The definitions provided below may be different depending on the type of business. However, these definitions can be used to gain clarity on the various topics mentioned above.

Concept Model

Created in order to demonstrate an idea. Concept models are physical models that permit individuals from various parts of an organization to view the idea. This is intended to stimulate discussion about the idea and determine if the functional areas approve or deny the idea.

Prototyping Attributes

  • Speed: The amount of time it takes to change a computer file into a physical prototype.
  • Appearance: The qualities of an object that can be seen. This includes, color, size, and shape just to name a few.

Assembly/Fit Testing

Creating some or all of the segments of an assembly, positioning the pieces together, and making sure they fit as they should. This makes sure there are no design errors and checks for little dimensional differences and tolerances.

Prototyping Attributes

  • Form: Shape of the part in terms of size and features.
  • Fit: How well the parts go together.

Functional Testing

Determines how a segment will work when put through stress. This makes sure the part will hold up as it should when working in its actual application.

Prototyping Attributes

  • Chemical Resistance: Ability of a part to withstand resistance from chemicals like fuels, acids, bases, hydrocarbons, etc.
  • Mechanical Properties: The strength of a segment that is determined based on tensile strength, impact strength, compressive strength, flexural strength, tear strength, etc.
  • Electronic Properties: How well a part holds up against electric fields such as static decay, dissipation factors, surface and volume resistance, etc.
  • Thermal Properties: Any changes that happen in a parts property caused by rises and decreases in temperature such as expansion coefficient, vicat softening point, etc.
  • Optical Properties: How well can the part transmit light such as refractive index, transmittance, haze, etc.

Life Testing

This checks properties that could alter with age and are vital for a product to function throughout its predicted lifespan. This encompasses exposing the creation to intense conditions such as different temperatures, voltage, ultraviolet (UV) light, humidity, etc. The result of this test assesses the products reaction when exposed to extreme conditions over its life.

Prototyping Attributes

  • Mechanical Properties: How well can the product tolerate large numbers of load cycles at different stress stages.
  • Aging Properties: How well can the product tolerate exposure to UV light without degenerating to much as well as the capability to tolerate prolonged forced to the segment with satisfactory levels of deflection.

Regulatory Testing

This tests the product to ensure it can pass certain standards that a specific organization or agency has enacted to make sure the different segments of the product are suitable for a certain use. This is often done for medical, food services, or consumer applications. An example of these regulatory organizations is the U.S. Food and Drug Agency (FDA) which ensures that all food, drugs, medical devices, and biological products pass a certain health and safety standard before they are able to be sold in the United States.

Prototyping Attributes

  • Flammability Properties: The ability of resin to refrain from lighting on fire when confronted with a flame.
  • EMI/RFI Properties: Resins or another segments ability to can keep Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) or Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) out of the product.
  • Food Rating: The authorization of resin or another segment to be put in a product that might come in contact at any point with food.
  • Biocompatibility: Resins or another segments ability to be compatible with human or animal living tissue. These products need to be non-toxic and not produce an immunological response when exposed to bodily fluids. This is extremely important for instruments in the medical field that are in close contact with humans.


According to a recent article published in Design Studies Journal, prototypes are vital tools in product design processes and are frequently underused by new designers. Prototype models are an essential tool for product design teams in order to make the most informed decisions through gaining data on the performance of as well as the reaction to those prototypes. Prototypes help minimize design errors that might occur either early or late in the design process. The key to success at this stage in the product development cycle is having lots of data. The more data you have about a product in this stage, the more apt an organization will be in preventing product or manufacturing problems later on. Following a comprehensive prototype, strategy enables a company to have a better chance of getting their product onto the market before competitors. This will give the product a leg up in the market in terms of being accepted, reliable performance, and profitability.

When thinking about the best way to get a prototype made it really depends on what stage you are at in the process and what your end result is. Concept models are a great tool when you are just beginning your design process. Concept models enable you to put those free-flowing ideas into a tangible model to share your idea with others. As you continue on your design process creating a prototype with visible characteristics becomes more and more crucial. Therefore, implementing the right prototype process is vital to the success of the product. The best way to ensure your design is validated is to guarantee the following key elements are met.

Three key elements necessary in order to validate the design:

Functional: This is how well a product can represent the attributes of the end-product. Often, these requisitions include material properties, dimensional accuracy, and cosmetic surface finishes.
Manufacturable: This is how well a prototype can be repeatedly and economically produced in a way that supports the requirements of the final product. Often, these requisitions include ensuring the parts cost less than required, support production schedule, and ability to uphold the functionality of the design.
Viability: This is how well your design can pass the challenges related to market trials and regulatory resting.

Once you ensure these key elements have been met you are ready to have a successful product launch!