Process Specialization in Prototyping and Outsourcing
In our previous installment, we explored the design for manufacturability benefits of using a full-service commercialization partner when building a prototype. So how does process specialization play a role in deciding between a prototype-only component provider and a commercialization partner? While prototype houses specialize in prototype mold-making, commercialization partners focus on the process as a whole by taking a prototype design and making it production-worthy in a high-volume market. This type of process specialization provides many advantages for OEMs associated with outsourcing prototypes and allows the prototype program to grow to its fullest potential.
Process specialization begins with bringing engineering experts to the table early enough so that in addition to helping the OEM develop parts that work, they are also developing a process that can be validated with the intent of going into long-term production. “We cannot stress enough the importance of having a team of experts involved early on in the process,” says Tim Holmes, Vice President of Engineering at GW Plastics. “By meeting with the design team while the prototype is still being designed, the commercialization partner can make sure the parts are designed properly for long-term requirements.” The process of production-intent prototyping includes the commercialization partner obtaining a thorough understanding of the OEM’s product design intent and function of each component. The commercialization partner then helps to ensure that the design is conducive to manufacturing in a high volume production environment. The partner’s tooling, quality, and manufacturing experts meets with the OEM’s team to ensure parts adhere to all conventional plastic design principals and reduce the frequency of poor steel design areas that could lead to premature mold wear.
After the OEM and commercialization partner create a design that can be manufactured in high volumes, the commercialization partner uses high-tech simulation software to predict any flaws. Instead of building a prototype blindly and then finding a potential problem, commercialization partners’ simulation software optimizes gate locations and minimizes cosmetic and dimensional flaws. By utilizing mold simulation software and scientific molding techniques, commercialization partners assure the tooling concept before any significant investment in production tooling that could require a significantly longer learning curve.
To ensure a high-quality prototype, the commercialization partner conducts a formal design review (the same type used on a production tool) before moving into the build phase. Once the prototype tool is completed, the final stage of the process is to use scientific molding principles to ensure high-quality production. “For production intent prototypes, GW Plastics employs rigorous mold qualification techniques based on scientific molding principles,” says Holmes. “We use scientific molding techniques to validate high quality, repeatable production for the life of the program.” The goal of this phase is to prove that the commercialization partner can consistently mold quality parts despite variation in molding materials and processing equipment – long before a significant cost is at risk launching multi-cavitational tooling.
There are many technical and commercial benefits of working with a team that specializes in the prototype to production process and with engineers who are experts in predicting design flaws and minimizing time to market. Working with a partner who understands the prototype process instead of just “producing parts” means that all of the factors necessary to build a successful program are considered, and the program is more efficient and reliable because of the broader perspective that comes with process experience.
In terms of reducing total time to market and mitigating risk, this approach is ideal for OEMs seeking high production and high quality programs. If this strategy is executed properly, the production intent prototype should lead to significantly less trial and error in the new product development phase, thereby reducing launch delays and cost. It is evident that process specialization benefits both parties involved in the project. So, how crucial are quick issue resolution and high-volume capabilities?