Prototyping has become an important step in the design process here at Apple Rubber, especially for custom sizes and shapes. With prototyping, design engineers can get a closer look at the details of custom and standard designs to ensure they will function properly in their application.
During the prototyping process, engineers are able to quickly provide feedback on ways to improve designs for more efficient production. This makes for a smooth transition from prototype to finished product. To get a better look at the behind the scenes of prototyping, here are the three important steps you need to know:
1. Design Review
Step one of the prototyping process is reviewing the design. During this phase, design engineers use a 3D CAD system to design the mold and part. This gives the engineers insight into what design features will be the most efficient, and which will fall flat. Engineers are able to quickly review the design, provide helpful feedback to customers and make adjustments when necessary before the model is created.
Depending on the design features, some parts may be difficult to produce and replicate on a larger scale. During the design phase, engineers plan ahead and ensure that every prototype is capable of undergoing production and the most efficient methods of manufacturing are mapped out.
2. Create the 3D Model
Step two of the prototyping process begins with the creation of a 3D model. After the design review process is complete, design engineers dive into developing a model of the prototype mold. Once the prototype is molded, it is sent to the machine shop where a CAM program creates a tool path for production. The tool path is the series of coordinate locations that a cutting tool will follow when making the part.
After the path is created, the CAM program feeds the CNC tool path so the tool can be machined. This will set everything up for the production process of the prototype.
3. Engineer the Prototype
After the tool paths are all mapped out, it’s time to finally engineer the prototype. Machinists use the tool path to begin cutting the steel used to make the tools. Apple Rubber typically uses hardened steel tools instead of aluminum for a variety of reasons, including:
- Steel provides high tolerance parts
- Only a few parts can be molded using aluminum compared to steel
- Aluminum is not capable of producing parts with tight tolerances
- Manufacturers are able to run through more cycles and make larger quantities with Steel
Since rubber can be abrasive, molding cycles can wear down an aluminum mold. Steel’s incredible durability helps keep cavity edges sharp so parts remain consistent.
After the tools are cut, the prototype is constructed and customer designs are brought to life. For an easy transition, Apple Rubber can take any prototype to high-volume tooling for production.
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