Rapid prototyping is being
used in just about all industrial sectors, although there are
probably more applications in the automotive industry than any
other. This is not surprising, however, given the intense global
competitive pressures that are being experienced by automotive
firms. A number of diverse application examples from different
sectors are described in Chapter
2 of the Management Report.
The application at Rockwell
Automotive (see Chapter 2, page 38 of the Management Report)
is a typical example of what many companies using this new technology
are achieving. In Rockwell's case the technology was used to:
- increase visualisation capability
during the early phases of design by using rapid physical models;
- detect design flaws before
the manufacture of tooling;
- rapidly create tooling to
manufacture physical prototypes.
Rockwell claim that this allowed
them to reduce by seven months the time taken to develop a prototype
engine. They also claimed that cost savings were achieved on
the development project.
Time and cost savings
The applications described
in Chapter 2 of the Management
Report show firms using rapid prototyping technologies to
achieve both cost and time savings in the process of new product
development. This is to be expected given the high emphasis that
is being given in most industries to reducing both the cost of
new product development and time to market.
In most cases firms using rapid
prototyping have gained time reductions in the production of
prototype tooling and parts, which is mostly how these time savings
have been specified.
The figures for time reductions
on prototyping vary greatly, ranging from 60 to 90%. On the whole
this range is likely to be realistic given that the estimation
of time savings, when compared to the conventional methods of
prototyping, is a fairly straightforward matter.
Little information is provided
in the public domain about cost savings. Clearly there is a potential
for cost reduction. For example, if mistakes can be identified
before commitments are made to expensive tooling, then the costs
associated with modifying such tools can be avoided. However,
the information on cost reductions should be treated with some
caution. The cases where cost reductions are claimed do not provide
sufficient details of the basis for the calculations or the assumptions
that have been made.
Whilst pursuit of time and
cost reductions are necessary business objectives, it is evident
from studying the application examples in Chapter
2 of the Management Report, that some firms are using rapid
prototyping in more innovative ways than others. Included in
these innovative applications are:
- the development of new analysis
and testing procedures (see, for example, the Andersen Corp.
case, page 46 of the Management Report);
- manufacture of production
tooling (see, for example, the Buddy/L case, page 43 of the Management
- improving communications across
product divisions (see, for example, the Square D Company case,
page 42 of the Management Report); and
- supporting customised manufacturing
(see, for example, the Wright Medical Technologies case, page
45 of the Management Report).
Given the high capital costs
of some rapid prototyping machines, especially the larger ones,
these innovative applications are probably the key to the successful
and cost-effective use of the technologies. It may be the case
that rapid prototyping will only be seen as financially viable
when these wider potential benefits are taken into account.
More information about costs
are given in Chapter 4 of
the Management Report, as well as in the chapter of the report
that deals with business case development.