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Rapid Prototyping for Competitive Advantage

Main Home > Paul T Kidd > Paul T Kidd's Books - Non-Fiction > Rapid Prototyping for Competitive Advantage: Technologies, Applications and Implementation for Market Success Home > Executive Summary

Rapid Prototyping for Competitive Advantage - Executive Summary

Rapid Prototyping for Competitive Advantage - Executive Summary

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Rapid Prototyping for Competitive Advantage

Technologies, Applications and Implementation for Market Success

Paul T Kidd

ISBN 1-901864-00-6 (Spiral bound)

Publisher: Cheshire Henbury

Price: See buy on-line link

Publication Date: 1997


When new information and manufacturing technologies appear they are often perceived as a means of improving upon current practices, for example, by saving time or reducing costs etc. However, many of the new technologies that have appeared since the early 1980s have often provided the opportunity to radically modify accepted practices or offered the potential to enable entirely new approaches. Commonly, these innovative aspects of new technology have not been fully exploited or only slowly understood by firms. Rapid prototyping processes are an example of new manufacturing technologies that present industry with the potential to create a discontinuity with the past, and hence an opportunity for firms to innovate and through this to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals.

Rapid prototyping technologies are a means of manufacturing that involves building components, layer by layer, using materials such as paper, wax, thermopolymere, etc. This is in contrast to older technologies that cut a component from a block of material (metal, foam, wax, etc). These layered models can then be used by designers for analysis. They can also be further processed to rapidly create prototype tooling which can then be used to manufacture prototype components. The technologies can also be used to create production tooling, and even to rapidly manufacture production components in low volumes. So rapid prototyping technologies are in fact a set of processes for the rapid production of models, prototypes, tooling and final components.

Typical reported benefits are often significant. On the production of prototype components, time reductions as high as 90% in comparison with existing standard prototyping methods have been reported. The exact time saving that can be achieved on the production of prototype components seems to depend on the complexity of the parts. Large cost savings have also been reported, ranging from 40% to 70%, but many companies do not have accurate information on the costs of new product development, so these figures should be treated with some caution. Nevertheless, even if cost saving have been overestimated by a factor of two, the likely savings will still probably be significant. The potential time and cost savings mean that the technologies are the worth considering as part of a larger effort focused on reducing new product development costs and time to market.

Market turbulence is becoming an increasingly important issue. This turbulence is caused by many factors, including the pace of technological developments, more diverse and ever changing niche markets, increased competition, and demanding customer expectations. The rapidly changing, uncertain and unpredictable nature of the business environment has exacerbated the prevailing high-risk nature of business activities. Rapid prototyping technologies must therefore be addressed within the context of market turbulence. The key question to consider is how rapid prototyping technologies can help firms deal with this type of environment, for example, by improving operational change competencies and helping to improve knowledge of customers requirements.

The real value of these new technologies therefore has to be assessed strategically. The technology has to be viewed from two perspectives. The first is attainment of business objectives like reducing time to market. The second is the potential to enable new business strategies and providing capabilities to respond to unexpected changes in the marketplace. There are several dimensions to this. For example can the technologies be used to:

1. help enter new markets, for example by lowering entry barriers?

2. increase market share, for example by using the time saving to explore more design options to create more innovative products that customers will value?

3. change the rules of competition, for example by offering customers individually customised products with no time or cost penalty?

Only through considering the strategic potential can the full range of benefits be accurately determined. This also implies that a strategic decision needs to be taken about whether to develop in-house capabilities or to outsource rapid prototyping by using bureau services, or some combination. Development of supply chain partnerships are also relevant should some degree of outsourcing be adopted.

As there are hidden benefit, so there are hidden costs. These stem from two sources. The first source of hidden cost stems largely from: the need to possibly modify existing computer-aided design systems; additional secondary technologies required to transform models into tooling and components; further equipment required to reduce and eliminate health and safety risks; and so on.

The second source of hidden costs stem from organisational and human resource issues. These amount to more than just the obvious training costs associated with learning how to operate the new equipment. The main additional cost is that associated with organisational changes which are likely to be needed for several reasons.

Firstly, technical features of the technologies will create new demands upon the organisation for coordination, communications etc. Moreover, because of the wide range of potential applications, the technologies could be located in several places: in new product development units, in prototyping shops, or in production, or even some combination. Whatever decisions are taken about location, this will add further requirements for coordination etc.

Organisational changes are considered an important factor for the successful application of rapid prototyping technologies. Such changes should be designed to promote culture change, team working, more open communications, and so on. These will bring benefits such as improved cross-functional understandings, shorter lead times and lower costs.

These types organisational changes will also enable the full achievement of the potential benefits of rapid prototyping technologies. For example, these technologies offer the potential to significantly reduce the lead time on the production of prototype components. This can allow issues such as design for manufacture to be assessed early on in the design process. However, if an adversarial relationship or lack of mutual respect and trust exists between designers and manufacturing experts, then it is unlikely that design for manufacture issues are going to be properly addressed. This is because to properly deal with these issues, designers need to take account of the preliminary results of manufacturing engineering problem solving to make products easier and less expensive to manufacture. On the other hand, manufacturing engineers must focus their problem solving efforts to deliver capabilities required by the designers. Both groups need to jointly engage in a process of mutual adjustment. Rapid prototyping technologies, on their own, are unlikely to enable this process.

Given complexity of the business and organisational issues involved, a comprehensive analysis involving strategic, technical and organisational assessments is recommended. At the end of these assessments an accurate cost/benefit analysis can be undertaken and decision taken on the basis of strategic analysis and return on investment calculations. If the benefits are not significant enough to justify captial investments in the technologies then an appropriate way forward may be to make use of rapid prototyping bureaux. However, if the services of bureaux are used then it is important to regularly review this decision. Rapid changes in the technologies may quickly render invalid, assumptions used in the business case justification. Supply chain management issues such as alignment of vision, development of open and effective communications, development of commitment to generating long-term mutual benefits, etc also need to be considered. The costs associated with these issues must therefore be factored into the cost/benefit analysis.


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