Automotive Prototype; Multiple are Utilized Across the Production Lifecycle
The usual notion about automotive prototypes is that their involvement in the development cycle is only once during validation, and that is between the conceptual product design and final production.
In reality, the automotive prototypes are required for different purposes before the design is actually finalized and is sent for manufacturing.
Right from determining that whether the product can be manufactured and deciding on materials to be used to evaluating the types of tools and equipment required to manufacture the product, automotive prototyping is not just a single step in the development cycle.
Being an integral part of the automotive engineering process, prototypes help engineers to understand how to make part or product that can attract more customers, convince the internal reviewers and stakeholders to invest in the new design as well as ensure the safety of end users with the new product.
To understand how prototypes are used by automotive OEMs and part manufacturers, let’s look at them in detail.
Prototypes for Design Validation
The first use of an automotive prototype by product design engineers is to better understand the design, validate the manufacturing feasibility and most importantly convince their concept to stakeholders. At the stage of design validation, the prototype is usually not the final model, but is generally a rough prototype made out of less costly 3D printing techniques like injection molding or additive manufacturing. As such, this type of prototype is more applicable for concept visualization and communicate the design intent to internal team members.
Prototypes for Pre-Development
The next step after validating the design and convincing the stakeholders and production teams is to prepare for a pre-development stage. This is where the prototype requires more refinement, good surface finishes and usability so that the product or part can be fitted in the vehicle and its resulting interaction with other parts can be studied. This stage is commonly referred to as the “mule stage” by engineers, where engineers assemble the prototype product in the existing vehicles.
Prototypes for Production Process Validation
Prototype is also required to validate the production process to identify which methods are best suited to produce the product. Techniques like CNC machining, metal stamping or metal forming are employed to produce the prototype and determine the ideal method of developing the final product. This stage allows engineers to identify issues during the production and rectify the same to make the production cost-effective.
Prototypes for Customer Feedback
For a new product idea to be successful, it is highly important to gain feedback from the end users. As such, a prototype is required to gain insights on what customers want and based on the feedback the material, look and features are identified to finalize the product design. Prototypes for customers are developed at any stage of the development.
Prototypes for Safety Tests
Prototypes are crucial for testing the product safety. The safety tests are usually performed right from pre-production to validation stages, to identify possibilities of product failure during the actual application. Known as Failure Mode Effect Analysis (FMEA), these tests use a prototype under different and extreme conditions and the behavior is recorded to evaluate the safety.
Prototypes for Manufacturing Validation
Prototyping is also required before the final production run to validate the selected manufacturing process. The prototype is developed using the finalized manufacturing methods and the quality of the product is studied. In this stage, equipment and tools are tweaked until a desired quality is not achieved. These prototype parts are also sent for verification testing to ensure that they function properly.
Automotive Prototype: There is Never Just One
Unlike the common notion, there is not just one prototype in the product development process; in fact, multiple prototypes are utilized across the production lifecycle by automotive manufacturers and OEMs.
From a rough imperfect state to a high quality, functional product, prototypes are continuously refined to ensure that the final product sent to the customers will be free from flaws, good in performance and safe to be used in the vehicle. It actually helps the entire automotive production unit, right from engineers, stakeholder and production staff to realize the new product concept clearly and bring it to market cost-effectively.
To support your need of prototype development, TrueCADD can strategically work with your organization to develop design information in the form of 3D CAD models for automobile parts, manufacturing drawings as well as provide prototype models through rapid prototyping. Our experienced team of engineers, CAD professionals and CAE specialists can help you in transforming your idea to actual product and push it to market faster.