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  • Writer's pictureMike Wynn

Learn about the three main methods of prototyping

Updated: Dec 8, 2023



Prototyping is an invaluable part of the product design process, providing the opportunity to test, analyse and improve your design idea, before moving to production.


There are three common methods of prototyping used within the industry, each has its own benefits which are explained in our handy video and in the text below.



3D PRINTING


3D printing

Within the design industry, 3D printing has become commonplace due to its speed and low cost. The fast-paced development of the technology also now offers a wide range of materials, simulating most plastics but also materials including carbon fibre and ceramics, some can even print in metal.


Using computer-aided design files, 3D printers construct a three-dimensional object by layering filament, resin or powder. This enables designers to produce cost-effective prototypes to extremely fine tolerances quickly. The drawbacks of 3D printing are that it can only produce one part at a time, and most require some processing after printing, meaning that it is only suitable for prototyping and not mass production.



VAC CASTING


VAC casting

Unlike 3D printing, VAC casting is perfect for achieving presentation-grade finishes on your prototype but can be expensive when compared to other methods. Rather than printing the product or part, a soft silicone mould is created before the material is poured into it. The technique works in exactly the same way as an injection moulding machine but without an expensive metal production tool. This allows parts to be made that very closely resemble production parts, and the mould can often be used to create small batches of parts before it degrades.



CNC MACHINING


CNC machining

CNC machining is often used for parts that simply cannot be produced by using other methods. The process starts with a block of material which is then machined out using a computer-numerically controlled drill bit or cutter. CNC machining can be used for much larger parts and is also extremely precise. This process is commonly used for wood, metal and plastic, however, it can require some time to complete each part and may need further finishing once completed meaning it can be an expensive process.


To outline the differences between each method, we have put together this useful table:

PROS

CONS

3D PRINTING

  • Very quick

  • Cheapest option

  • Able to print a range of materials

  • Small tolerances

  • Only used for prototyping

  • Inefficient for large quantities

VAC CASTING

  • Presentation grade finishes

  • Able to print a range of materials

  • Good for small to medium batch manufacturing

  • Expensive

  • Not good for large parts

CNC MACHINING

  • Use with any material

  • Great for large parts

  • Very small tolerances

  • Can be expensive depending on the material used

  • Inefficient for large quantities

For more information on how Duku uses these prototyping techniques, as well as our full range of state-of-the-art prototyping services, visit our prototyping page on our website www.duku.co.uk/prototype.


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