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Advantages of Rapid Prototyping

Adopting Rapid Prototyping for increased innovation

We know that as an Engineer you enjoy trying new things and solving problems that have not been solved before. Due to the ever increasing time-to-market pressures companies tend not to encourage this "outside the box" thinking. The desire to get products out to customers in shortest time is natural and often helps winning business by simply getting there first. One implication of such approach though is re-using previous design work, thus limiting innovation. While re-using previously validated circuits is by all means an excellent shortcut, the longer term consequence could be missing out on the advantage of new technologies, risking competition coming up with cheaper, more reliable and efficient products.  

Investing time in tackling problems from a wider variety of angles does not have to mean longer design cycles. Rapid Prototyping methodology can neutralise the innovation overhead adding real benefits for the individual engineers: keeping skills up to date and staying abreast with latest technologies. The highly accessible DesignSpark resources complement the breadth of the RS Components and Allied Elecronics product offer, forming a unique Rapid Prototyping environment.

Challenges of Rapid Prototyping

The philosophy of creating a number of completely separate design concepts within a design team is not new. In fact it had been around for decades, gradually challenged by market realities. This good practice ensures no option is left unexplored and the final product addresses the customer problem in the best way; both from technical and cost perspectives.

The caveat is  that each of the shortlisted concepts need proving in some form of tangible prototype - this is where the costs and additional time start rocketing up. Firstly producing electronic and mechanical prototypes used to be a considerable cost up until few years ago. Secondly the traditional electronics and mechanical design software is costly and its complexity means unavoidable steep learning curve. Both these factors make it challenging to scale up number of engineers involved in digital concept creation within a given company's design team.

3D Printing changes the game

 Up until very recently only the cash-rich Aerospace, Military and Automotive corporations could afford getting the physical concept models manufactured for variety of ideas addressing a single design need. Medium and small engineering companies were forced to seek cost reductions, settling with compromising on one best concept potentially missing out on a number of better end solutions.

Complemented with fast turnaround PCB pooling services, increasingly affordable 3D Printing enables producing tangible concept prototypes at a fraction of the cost. This remarkable development allows even smallest companies experiment with a variety of  design approaches helping create solutions better suited to customer needs.

Traditional software not suited for innovation

The widely used mechanical and electronics design tools have grown in complexity over the decades and are now perfectly geared for handling complex designs and produce precise manufacturing blueprints. This is ideal for the final product design when all particulars are tested and agreed. Not ideal for making lots of iterative changes, characteristic to the concept-prototype stages of the design cycle. What if the prototype is required for validating only a small circuit, a part of an end product?

Traditional tools are often an overkill for such small jobs, yet with no alternative incur delays due to dependence on CAD specialists holding the expertise and a software license. Communication between design engineers and PCB layout professionals or 3D CAD specialists is a large cost, often unappreciated, due to the fact that making changes is time consuming because of the software complexity. A good example here is the history-based nature of traditional 3D CAD where making even a smallest change has a knock-on effect on the rest of design. Rapid Prototyping approach requires design software that invites lots of frequent design alterations that allow collaborative input from customers, marketing, sales and other engineers.

How does this affect the time-to-market? How do I benefit?

At RS Components and Allied Electronics we believe there can be more innovation. We want to enable every engineer to try out more ideas. Our mission is to level the play field by enabling the small to compete with the big by democratising product design. DesignSpark resources are created to give you the ability to adopt the Rapid Prototyping approach to create better end products for your customers, differentiating from competition.

We removed the barriers of cost and complexity form the concept-prototype stages of the design cycle, producing ultra-accessible tools for innovation. This ease of use means weeks or even months are no longer necessary for training, the minimised complexity saves tons of time when making frequent design changes. These factors neutralise the innovation overhead caused by creation of more concepts and prototypes. The more ideas you try out, the more you learn, keeping up to date with the latest trends and technologies, the more you enjoy engineering. We believe the less you rely on in-house PCB layout specialists or outsourced Mechanical design, the more freedom you have to experiment with new ideas.

The accessibility of our tools also proved to stimulate collaboration both between engineers in design teams and between companies and subcontractors, further reducing the innovation overhead. Combined with the broad product range available from RS Components and Allied Electronics, DesignSpark is the ultimate modern Rapid Prototyping environment you can start taking advantage of right now!

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19 Nov 2014, 11:48