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02.16.22 | 4 min read

Should I Use a Prototyping Service?

Prototyping is a critical step in bringing new products to market. It can help avoid costly issues during production by troubleshooting them earlier in the research and development process. While you likely already recognize the value of prototyping, you still have a choice to make: should you partner with a prototyping service or your contract manufacturer for your project?

In this article, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of each. Let’s dive in.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Prototyping Services

Prototyping services are specialists at quickly bringing your design to 3D life so you can check its viability before committing to full production. Some services transact completely online—all you need to do is upload your design, submit it for production, and get your part in the mail. It’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s low commitment.

While this arrangement may work for some, it has its drawbacks. Because of the highly transactional nature of prototyping services, you won’t get as much input if you need to troubleshoot your design. That might require you heading back to the (AutoCAD) drawing board, deciding what to change, and starting the process over again. 

Design for manufacturability is also not typically considered in these arrangements. What seems to work well in a 3D printed prototype might not be viable when you take it to production using metal stamping or plastic molding. And as you probably already know, design revisions once you reach production get more costly and complex the farther into the job you get.

Advantages

  • Likely to have specialized prototyping equipment available such as 3D printing (selective laser sintering, stereolithography, and fused deposit modeling)
  • Fast turnaround time—some services can provide a prototype in as little as 1-15 days
  • Easy to upload your design, send it out online, and receive your parts
  • Quick and easy way to get your design into 3D for evaluation

Disadvantages

  • Less consultative process; you are on your own to make decisions and adjustments to your part design
  • Design for manufacturability is typically not considered by prototyping services
  • Prototyping service providers may not have expertise in the eventual method of manufacturing you will use for full production

Advantage & Disadvantages of Prototyping with Your Contract Manufacturer

Working with your contract manufacturer to produce a prototype isn’t usually as straightforward or simple as uploading a drawing and getting a finished part in the mail. Because like us, most contract manufacturers that offer prototyping will take a more consultative approach, working with you to tweak your design so it’s optimized for manufacturability before we ever put metal to a press (or plastic to a mold…you see what we mean). 

While this can take a little extra time at the beginning of your project, your patience will be rewarded. By verifying the viability of your design using production equipment, we can get a better sense of how the part will behave during full runs. This allows us to correct any issues before we start ramping things up. And if you ask us, you probably only want to use fancy-schmancy equipment for your prototypes if you’ll be using fancy-schmancy equipment during production. 

Advantages

  • Set your project up for smoother production when you prototype with design for manufacturability in mind
  • Create your prototypes using similar equipment that you’ll use for production
  • Get a clearer picture of what your finished product will actually be like
  • Transition faster from prototyping to first run and then full production
  • Get more cost-effective help for design revisions

Disadvantages

  • Can sometimes take longer to produce a 3D first version
  • Prototyping services are not usually offered a la carte without a commitment for the full production job
  • May not have 3D printing or other high-tech/specialized manufacturing capabilities

Have a Prototyping Project?

Now that you understand more about the pros and cons of both prototyping services and prototyping with your contract manufacturer, it’s time to get started. If you’re working on developing new parts or revising existing designs for metal stampings, plastic injection moldings, or insert moldings, we can help! Connect with an LMC expert today to optimize your design and take the next step toward full, revenue-generating production.

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