A prototype is a preliminary version of a product which is created before actual manufacturing takes place. It helps the designer to envision how his designs will translate into the actual product, and hence, prototyping is a very important part of the hardware production process. Rapid CNC Prototyping (CNC Computer Numerical Control) is one of the popular ways of rapid prototyping used to create a good quality computing device prototype. However, there are both pros and cons of this process as listed below:
Benefits of Rapid CNC Prototyping
- It is a quick and precise process
- The quality of hardware prototype created by this process is very similar to that of the actual product in terms of look and feel
- This process is generally used to make a single prototype, but can also create up to a few hundred pieces
- The CNC machinery can work on both plastic and metal
- Rapid CNC Prototyping has several additional benefits such as lesser number of human errors, lesser operator fatigue, and lesser dependence on operator skills due to the use of programmed control.
- Since most of the CNC machines are run from programs, they are not just easy to setup and reload for each new run, but they also lead to more flexibility and faster change-over
However, in spite of its many advantages, one of the main deterring factors about this process is that it can be very expensive. A single CNC hardware prototype can be several times costlier than what it would be in mass production.
This is a great video showing how Rapid CNC prototyping process came to be about.
The CNC Prototyping Process
At the heart of CNC is the process of motion control. Guided by a program, the servomotors perform linear, rapid and circular motions in a precise and automatic manner.
- To start off, a CAD (Computer Aided Design) software is used to program the 3D file of the product being prototyped
- Next, the material for the prototype is selected. It could be PMMA (better known as acrylic glass), ABS, or even wood, foam, metal, etc. The type of material selected completely depends upon your needs
- The next step is to upload the program data into the machine
- After this, once the high speed CNC machine is started, it uses the programmed data to give shape to the block of hardware prototype material being used. The machine also monitors the ongoing process based on the program
- Each individual piece is then removed, dried, polished, painted and inspected. If any imperfections or irregularities are observed, they are repaired and restored
- Finally, the assembly of all the parts is done, and the final CNC prototype is now ready
Whether or not CNC rapid prototyping is suitable for you, ultimately depends on the time and money available. Although costlier, its quick turnaround time is quite useful during the hardware production process. It also greatly improves the time to market for innovative computing devices and helps beat the competition.