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How Prototype Molding Services Accelerate Product Development

prototype made after molding

Developing prototypes is a pivotal phase in new product development. Prototype parts provide the first tangible models to evaluate ergonomic design attributes, conduct engineering tests to validate strength and function, refine specifications based on physical rather than virtual models, and gather direct customer feedback on potential products. Thorough evaluation at the prototype stage minimizes risk before large investments in production tooling, manufacturing capacity, and market launch activities.

Prototype injection molding produces a limited number of plastic parts using soft tooling for testing form, fit, and function before committing to hardened production tooling. Prototype molds are designed to provide parts quickly and cost-effectively in the new product development process.

These prototype injection molds are typically built from aluminum rather than tool steel to facilitate faster machining and adjustments and revisions as needed. They may utilize components with finished surfaces to shorten lead times where aesthetic appearance permits. Cooling systems are simplified or omitted since mold longevity with moderate run sizes is not required. Still, these molds are robust enough to produce tens of thousands of parts, depending on plastic part geometry. 

The prototype molding process replicates  the actual production part molding conditions closely. Pre-production plastic resin, molding machines, and parameters are identical to those intended for full-scale production. This yields prototype parts for realistic testing of the proposed design and commercial manufacturing process.

The insight gained from injection molded prototypes is invaluable despite the limited production run quantities. Prototype molding provides vital physical confirmation to confidently advance a product from concept to completed design ready for high-volume manufacturing.

Rapid Iteration of Product Designs

The quick turnaround time for prototype molds, often just a few weeks, allows multiple design concepts to be tested simultaneously. Different design iterations exploring various part geometries, features, and dimensional variations can be molded and evaluated. Prototype tooling also facilitates material testing by enabling samples of many formulations and grades of plastic resin. The ability to rapidly test these physical designs and material variations aids in selecting the optimal solution.

Identify and Fix Issues Early On

Once initial prototypes are molded, design issues can be identified early in development, while changes are still relatively easy to implement. Common defects like sink marks, warpages, or surface defects point to improvements needed in part design or molding parameters. Making adjustments at the prototype stage can prevent costly production delays.

Refine Product Specs and User Experience Faster

With actual parts in hand in the early phases of development, designers gain valuable insights that assist in refining specifications, functionality, and end-user experience. Getting prototypes to customers for feedback provides real-world input to prioritize refinements. The ability to quickly iterate functional performance and ergonomics based on testing data ultimately leads to products better optimized for their intended use.

Enable Thorough Product Testing

woman texting a product after mold fabrication

The parts produced with prototype molds provide the first tangible components to verify and test key product functionality. Critical performance attributes and specifications around strength, precision, speed, efficiency, and more can all be quantified and validated versus design goals. This testing provides crucial data to finalize technical requirements before ramping up production.

User Testing and Feedback Studies 

Prototypes allow product developers to put working models in the hands of target customers for direct testing and feedback. Observing real customer usage often reveals unforeseen issues that are not detectable through internal testing alone. User studies generate objective data to prioritize refinements and optimizations for maximum usability and customer satisfaction.

Durability Testing under Real-World Conditions

Molding prototype parts in the actual production resin enables physical testing to simulate real-world operating conditions. Prototypes can be subjected to various environmental exposures, mechanical stresses, fatigue testing, and accelerated life cycle testing to ensure the achievement of target service life with an adequate safety margin. This confirmation of durability requirements reduces field failure risks.

Support Manufacturing Planning

The prototype molding stage is a trial run for the materials, machines, tools, and methods required in mass production. Prototype parts validate the planned production processes, equipment, and quality procedures to minimize launch issues. Refining manufacturing and assembly processes with prototypes avoids costly mistakes or delays when ramping up volume later.

Develop Assembly Methods and Quality Controls

Prototype parts facilitate the creation of assembly methods, jigs, and fixtures to evaluate manufacturability. Quality control procedures can also be established for part acceptance, inspection criteria, testing processes, and other protocols. Personnel training needs are identified earlier. Smoothing out assembly and quality control methodology with prototypes prevents hurried efforts later under mass production pressures.

Identify Potential Manufacturing Issues Sooner

Potential production issues not detectable through CAD files alone are frequently uncovered with prototype parts in hand. Prototyping reveals concerns with part tolerance stack-ups, interference fits, assembly sequencing, and other manufacturability issues before production tools are finalized. Identifying these process risks earlier prevents problems when high-volume production is underway.

Reduce Overall Risk and Cost

The low cost of prototype molds, often a fraction of production tools, allows validation of product designs with less financial risk. Companies can utilize prototypes to evaluate technical and commercial viability more prudently rather than sinking costs into full manufacturing capabilities upfront when uncertainties are highest.

Make Informed Go/No Decisions Earlier

Thorough prototype testing yields the necessary data to make informed decisions on further investment in the product. By revealing issues earlier, companies can objectively determine whether to proceed further, modify designs, or terminate projects if warranted. This prevents wasting additional resources on products later found to be flawed.

Avoid Costly Redesign Delays Later On

Design flaws that are undetected until after production tools are built often necessitate substantial rework costs, production delays, and market launch postponements. The prototype confirmation stage significantly reduces the likelihood of these costly late-stage issues by thoroughly vetting designs. Smoother production ramp-up lessens budget overruns.

Incorporating prototype molds in the development process mitigates risk, prevents unnecessary spending, and reduces delays for plastic products. This leads to lower overall development costs.

Choosing the Right Prototype Partner

mold during fabrication process

Selecting the right prototype molding collaborator is critical to maximize value during new product development. Key attributes to evaluate include:

  • Seeking broad in-house capabilities aligning with program needs rather than outsourcing steps. Micro molding for tiny, complex parts, rapid tooling for extreme lead time reduction, and similar specialized processes ensure prototyping service breadth.
  • Looking for a robust understanding of the full development sequence from early concept reviews to pilot production planning. This big-picture view brings valuable guidance on optimizing the prototyping phase.
  • Engaging a partner offering extensive design for manufacturability analysis before tools are cut. Simulation of mold filling, tolerance reviews, gate location recommendations, and component optimization improves outcomes.

The right strategic prototyping ally combines a creative solutions mindset with tactile manufacturing knowledge and project management experience to elevate product development practice. Treat the partner relationship as an integrated, collaborative team effort.

Partner with The Experts at Protoshop for All Your Prototyping Needs

Accelerate your next product development project with Protoshop as your prototype injection molding partner. Leading companies trust Protoshop’s expertise in low-volume aluminum molding and rapid prototyping to test innovative designs quickly and cost-effectively. Whether you need 10 or 10,000 parts, our skilled technicians and precision machines guarantee high-quality pre-production components on accelerated schedules.

Contact us today to discuss your next project and discover how our rapid prototyping expertise can accelerate your product launch timeline.

Based on 7 reviews
Dana Taylor
Dana Taylor
If you're in need of a molding prototype shop, Dylann and Jimmy at Protoshop are sure to not only meet but exceed your expectations. Their team demonstrates remarkable responsiveness and proactiveness, contributing to an exceptionally efficient overall process. The speed at which they deliver top-notch work is truly impressive. Protoshop's commitment to customer satisfaction is apparent in their flexibility and willingness to closely collaborate with clients to address specific needs. An exemplary instance of this was their accommodation of our request to have our customer onsite for part evaluation and mold changes while we were present. What sets Protoshop apart is not solely their technical proficiency but also their dedication to providing valuable insights and design advice. Their expertise extends beyond standard projects, showcasing proficiency in handling complex components for diverse applications, be it over-molded sealing parts or flexible components. In conclusion, if you're on the lookout for a reliable and efficient partner for your manufacturing and molding requirements, I wholeheartedly recommend Protoshop. Their combination of expertise, responsiveness, and commitment to customer satisfaction makes them an exceptional choice for a variety of projects.
Brittany Mason
Brittany Mason
I have worked with Photoshop on several mold designs over the past year. From the moment I reached out to them with an inquiry, they were prompt in their communication and eager to assist me. I have greatly appreciated and benefited from their extensive expertise and prompt feedback. They consistently offering valuable suggestions and insights that ultimately saved us money in the overall design. As for the quality of work they provided, Dylann and her team have always come through. If any issues do arise, they have been quick to offer solutions and kept us up to date throughout the whole process. If you're looking for a reliable partner for your plastics molding needs, I would check them out.
Stacie Depner
Stacie Depner
Having worked with Dylann and Jimmy prior to Protoshop, I knew the immense level of expertise they have for this business and it proved to carry through. They are honest straight shooters that will help guide you and find the best solution for your molds. We needed a mild that could be versatile and allow us to easily change out one side of the design. Dylann helped us come up with an approach that will allow us to continuously iteration the design without having to make a whole new mold every time.
Chad Follmar
Chad Follmar
Dylann and team are wonderful to work with. On multiple programs, they have delivered quality product in a matter of days. The design for moldability support is unparalled to ensure your part is ready to order.
Garrett Garner
Garrett Garner
We work regularly with Protoshop on a variety of complex components for various projects. They are an excellent company to work with providing a vast history of experience to help their clients optimize designs. We have worked with them on microfluidic chips with small feature sizes, over molded sealing parts and flexible parts. They have experience working with many materials including Topas (COC), polycarbonate, TPE, PE, and PP. I would highly recommend reaching out on your next project. The team is very responsive to design changes as well as delivering to tight timelines. They also offer design advice and best practices which have helped expedite design iterations.
Steven Soeder
Steven Soeder
Great experience with Protoshop. Dylann is extremely responsive and great to work with. Very fast turn-around. Worked with us on our order to get what we needed. I was able to drop ship 3d printed parts from another vendor to Protoshop to have them match-fit and incorporated into our tooling. I will be back again.
Wendell Woidyla
Wendell Woidyla
Dylann at Protoshop is excellent to work with: highly responsive and proactive. This is possibly the fastest, high-quality work I have ever witnessed. 1 week...from payment (start) to delivery (after CTQ measurements at Protoshop), we had 100 test samples of a component we intend to use in high volume manufacturing. Thank you for the tremendous work! I would highly recommend Protoshop, and will plan to use Protoshop services in the future.