3 Ways to Reduce Your Number of Physical Prototypes

Frustrated by long lead times and excessive design iterations? Reduce your number of physical prototypes before they get to production.

Whether you make several prototypes at once, go with your gut or use chintzy materials to gauge functionality, these methods are no longer efficient in today’s digital world.

Making “course corrections” as quickly as possible after a decision is made is critical. It comes down to effectively answering the question, “How can the designer know that was the right decision?” The right one will keep your project on track, staying within budget and functioning accurately, while the alternative can destroy your budget, cause exasperating project setbacks and infuriate your boss.

How can you know if you are making the right decision? Check out these three ways you can ensure the integrity of your designs earlier and cut back on the number of physical prototypes created.

  1. Analyze multiple configurations at once
  2. Test for specific design requirements earlier
  3. Simulate in virtually any design environment

Let’s take a look at this existing plastic stool for example. The goal is to optimize this stool with two new design requirements. 1) it must handle a 200-pound person standing on it, and 2) it must be as inexpensive as possible.

Reduce Physical Prototypes With SOLIDWORKS Simulation Plastic Stool Example Screen Capture

Analyzing Multiple Configurations at Once

Instead of manufacturing various physical prototypes for one project, compare your distinct designs side by side to determine which one is the best. This drastically cuts back on material waste and long lead times between iterations.

Analyzing Multiple Configurations at Once With SOLIDWORKS Simulation Plastic Stool Example Image

Testing for Specific Design Requirements Earlier

It’s critical that your prototype passes all its required tests including weight, tolerance, frequency, footprint (overall size), factor of safety or lifespan before you finalize your design. If you could decrease your physical prototypes from twenty to one, how much faster would you get your projects finished?

Going back to the image of our plastic stool above, you can see three potential design approaches. It is possible that building an unstiffened, uniform wall design with the minimum thickness allowed by the molding process will work. This “first pass” only uses 24 in3 of plastic. Adding stiffening ribs not only will increase the product cost, but also will improve the structural performance. By adding “some ribs” adds 10 percent to the cost, while a final, more conservative option — using the deepest ribs possible without changing the overall styling — will add 30 percent to the cost.

Considering these three options based on gut with no computational data to back it up, the “no ribs” version seems to be the highest-risk decision and the most likely to not work. At the same time, the deeper rib design is most likely to be the sturdiest. This thought process brackets both the high-risk and the low-risk options. Without any further knowledge, most design engineers would opt for the deeper rib option to be conservative.

Simulating in Virtually Any Design Environment

Next, virtually simulating your design in the environment it will go into gives you the data needed to dismiss the wrong designs earlier and home in on the right ones quicker. You can easily optimize your design for strength, different web thicknesses, where to add chamfers and fillets, accurate hole sizes, different component layouts and different beam profiles depending on what your design needs.

Looking at the deeper rib option in our plastic stool example, the company most likely committed to expensive and time-consuming tooling on gut feel. This particular rib design still may not be sufficient. It may get overdesigned, thus violating the project’s costing goals. Now consider making this decision with actual data on the performance of each concept. This would reduce the risk to an acceptable level and make your job much easier.

Virtual Simulation With SOLIDWORKS Simulation Plastic Stool Example Image

By analyzing the virtual simulations, you can see the results for the two ribbed designs contradict “gut feel” for the best option. Simulation shows that the shallow rib option actually does meet the structural requirements, such that adding additional material to deepen the ribs contributes nothing but cost to the design.

What does this say about gut-feel design? Although most designers get it right more often than wrong, just what “right” means deserves some clarification. After the conservative approach was selected, testing would have indicated it could indeed support a 200-pound adult and everyone would move on. It was apparently “good enough.” However, one would never know, with that workflow, that it was overdesigned by 20 percent of the material cost. Can any company afford to operate this way?

Simulating your ideas in a virtual environment better prepares your design for physical testing by ruling out faulty concepts before too much time and money goes into them. Watch the webinar here to learn how to get the data you need to make more competitive products.

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Stop Guesstimating and Start Validating Your Designs

In just 23 minutes, you’ll discover how to make this bicycle hitch cheaper, lighter and more durable.

Get the answers to questions like:

  • How much load can it endure?
  • What is the lifespan of the bicycle hitch?
  • What type of environments can it withstand?
  • How can you reduce its material costs to stay within budget?
SOLIDWORKS Simulation Screen Capture