Rapid prototyping allows inventors, R&D teams, and businesses to test new technologies efficiently and effectively. The process “saves time, money, and effort by ensuring that a team is on the right path before they’ve gone too far.” In the decades since digital wireframes and 3D printing were developed, they’ve become synonymous with rapid prototyping. These technologies represented huge shifts in the prototyping process and are still used regularly by engineers, scientists, and developers. Today, new innovative prototyping methods are again changing the way inventors test their technologies and increasing the speed of the innovation process.
1. Remote Collaboration
COVID-19 necessitated remote collaboration during much of 2020. Many companies envision employees continuing to work remotely, at least part of the time, after the virus is no longer an immediate threat. This shift in workplace norms requires virtual prototyping solutions. Connected, automated, and augmented tools allow for collaboration between teams in different locations and across disciplines.
Advances in stereolithography, often referred to as SLA, now allow for microscale 3D printing. Boston Micro Fabrication (BMF) is currently using what they call Projection Micro Stereolithography to prototype elements with features between 10 and 50 microns. For scale, that’s comparable to the size of a white blood cell (25 microns) and smaller than the width of a human hair (70 microns). This rapid prototyping technology allows for 3D printing of microfluidics and microfilters for medical devices, electronics, and other itty-bitty innovations.
3. Virtual Reality
Auto manufacturer BMW pairs augmented reality (AR) goggles with CAD data to produce faster, cheaper prototypes of the production process for new vehicles. The “AR goggles allow real geometries… to be overlaid with true-to-scale holographic 3D models.” These virtual reality-enhanced prototypes allow for better remote work capabilities as well.
Other innovative prototype technologies that rely on virtual reality include Canon’s “no-prototype” methodology. Canon, a digital imaging solutions company known for its cameras, is eliminating many physical prototypes in favor of virtual and simulated models. Their latest simulations, powered by a Fujitsu supercomputer, will encompass over 100 million elements when they begin in 2021.