Historically, in the case of sheet materials for gaskets, thermal management solutions and other related applications, prototyping has been addressed by hand making parts or crudely modifying standard parts. This is mainly because of the time and excessive cost associated with manufacturing tooling for just a handful of parts, the design of which may very possibly have to change several times through the product design cycle.
Hand-fashioning prototype parts is also time consuming and the results are not truly representative from an appearance and performance point-of-view of what will ultimately be used. This can cause serious problems and severely limit ‘proof of concept’ at crucial points in the design phases of a project.
With advanced tool-free manufacturing such as that utilised by Materials Direct, it is quick-and-easy to make small quantities of completely representative parts without incurring tooling costs. Such an approach is extremely cost-effective for prototyping and even small batch production runs. In addition, fully representative parts take a huge amount of the risk and uncertainty out of product development and can significantly shorten the design cycle by avoiding re-spins of parts later in the program.
Ultimately though, it is also important to be conscious that for applications that will reach significant volumes, there will likely come a point where the need for a sustained high level of supply will mean that it becomes sensible for reasons of continuity of supply and economics, that an alternative, perhaps multi-part tooling approach is taken.