How General Manufacturers can effectively use rapid prototyping to improve product development

October 4, 2016 - 5 minutes read
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Background

Cutting costs and improving operational efficiency are perhaps the two main factors that influence how a business chooses to function. Historically, technology has been used to lower the operating costs of businesses and, in particular, general manufacturers. Technology has offered us a quicker, faster, and more efficient way of producing a minimum viable product (MVP) ready for market release.

In 1794, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, a piece of machinery that is considered to be a key invention of the American Industrial revolution. Since then, innovation and technology have been held with high regards when it comes to the advancement of manufacturing practices, regardless of where a company resides globally.

We at Tefen carry forth that same spirit of innovation: whether it is through our continuous improvement practices, Lean360 ™ methodology, or Lean Six Sigma toolbox, we are always looking to make our clients’ day-to-day operations easier and efficient. Within the realm of general manufacturing, we have identified an area that we believe can be improved; that is, product development.

The Changing Landscape of Product Development

Product development and R&D into making new products come at a significant cost to companies that are looking to constantly innovate and improve their offerings. With an average of over $232B spent on R&D in the manufacturing sector alone, it is evident that a high emphasis is placed on developing newer, more innovative products (National Science Foundation). On a global scale, approximately 11.1% of R&D was spent in the General Manufacturing sector (Statistisa.com). These numbers have only risen in the past few years, perhaps due to increased competition amongst players in the industry.

We at Tefen have served a variety of mid-sized manufacturers, many of whom either have in-house engineers or contracted engineers to produce their latest innovative products. The cost of prototyping can vary depending on the methodology used. Pictured below is the prototyping process, which traditionally can take 2-3 months depending on the nature of the product itself. Additionally, if a product is defective, significant cost increases will arise as a result of reproducing a revised version.

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A solution to this issue that has existed, but has not been widely implemented are the techniques of rapid prototyping. This involves using three-dimensional, computer-aided designs (CAD) to rapidly scale physical models of potential products.

Rapid Prototyping as an innovative process

With the rise of the 3D printing, the primary mechanism that enables rapid prototyping, we at Tefen believe there exists a gap in the market for small to mid-sized manufacturers in implementing such rapid prototyping techniques in their product development methodologies. Thought leaders from the Economist seem to be aligned as well:

“Three-dimensional printing makes it as cheap to create single items as it is to produce thousands and thus undermines economies of scale. It may have as profound an impact on the world as the coming of the factory did….Just as nobody could have predicted the impact of the steam engine in 1750—or the printing press in 1450, or the transistor in 1950—it is impossible to foresee the long-term impact of 3D printing. But the technology is coming, and it is likely to disrupt every field it touches.” (The Economist, Leaders)

The initial cost of purchasing a 3D printer can be easily outweighed by quality and speed of the rapid prototyping design process in reaching a minimum viable product (MVP). As the cost of 3D printers begin to decline over time, we foresee an increase in the purchase and use of such machines by manufacturers and, furthermore, the increased use of rapid prototyping methodology for manufacturers of all sizes. The use of this rapid prototyping methodology will allow general manufacturers to expedite the process of product development without it effecting the quality of their products!

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