The automotive industry is among the greatest industries globally, and it consists of several competing companies. These companies have customers with different choices when buying a car. As the manufacturers, they have to meet the needs of the consumers by being innovative and coming up with appealing features. For that reason, prototyping is important since it gives the companies a chance to assess their various designs before producing them in large numbers.
In this guide, you will get to have in-depth knowledge about rapid prototyping and every aspect of automotive prototyping.
II. What Is Automotive Prototyping?
Automotive prototyping is the process that includes deciding on the material that best suits a certain product and evaluating the necessary items to be used in manufacturing the product. It also includes assessment and improvement to show that the final product is efficient enough for the consumer. This is done by producing an initial product sample that needs advancement and working to know the dos and don’ts.
III. Why Prototyping in the Automotive Industry?
Prototyping is practiced in the automobile industry since it has many benefits that come with it. These benefits include;
- Prototyping makes it easier to find probable faults in a design early enough before mass production.
- It also makes it possible to evaluate if a company can implement the production of a certain product. This is by determining technical or any other limitations that may hinder the production process.
- It allows a company to get feedback from its customers. This is after presenting its customers with a prototype and getting their view on what to improve or change hence better customer satisfaction.
- It saves on the costs to be used in case of any required changes since customer feedback helps the company make changes early before mass production, which would otherwise be costly.
- The period a product is expected to last is determined through the assessment of the prototype.
IV. Functions of Automotive Prototyping
The functions of automotive prototyping include;
A. Design validation
In this phase, the manufacturers present roughly done prototypes to stakeholders for them to have an idea of the concept of the product to be manufactured. Cost-efficient and simple manufacturing processes such as mold design and mold manufacturing are used in this phase to create the draft prototype.
This takes place after the draft presented in the first phase is verified. It is also referred to as the mule phase and it is in this phase, a better prototype is manufactured using the CNC machining method, which is commonly used. This phase helps the engineers to have a picture of how the prototype will connect with other parts in a former vehicle. Other design options are considered to see which one suits better.
C. Production or manufacturing
As the name suggests, in this phase the engineer goes ahead to choose the perfect procedure to use in the production of the end product. Once the most favorable method is chosen, the production process of the prototype begins.
D. Customer feedback
When the prototype is manufactured, the manufacturers provide the product to their customers for testing and later give their feedback. Customer feedback helps the engineers know what to change and improve according to the customer’s preferences. This also helps stakeholders get the idea the engineers had in mind.
E. Safety testing
In this phase, the automotive prototype is tested to assess its durability, how safe the user is when using it, and also the likelihood of failure. To ensure reliable results, the prototypes are exposed to different serious conditions to recognize any complications that may hinder the efficiency of the product or be unsafe to the customers. The testing process can be referred to as Failure Mode Effect Analysis.
F. Manufacturing validation
A prototype has to be developed in this phase for manufacturing validation. This is whereby the engineers use the equipment that was initially suggested to be suitable for the production process. Some adjustments are made in this phase to complete the automotive product. Eventually, when the final prototype is considered to be secure for the customers and working well as expected, production can start and products be sold to the public.
V. Methods of Creating Automotive Prototypes
A. CNC Machining
This process is used in manufacturing the first piece of a product that is yet to be manufactured in large numbers. This process helps ensure that problems and flaws are easily recognized to ensure no further problems during the manufacturing process. It helps visualize how the end product is expected to look and its qualities. It involves a computer spontaneously directing a machine tool instead of being manipulated directly by an operator.
B. 3D Printing
This is whereby a three-dimensional object is built out of a CAD model. Several procedures can be used whereby the material is placed, attached, or hardened under computer control while materials such as plastic, and metal are put together layer after layer. 3D printing is normally used for rapid prototyping.
C. Vacuum Casting
It makes use of silicone molds to produce elements of rubber and plastic under vacuum which makes it manufacture products with smooth surfaces and of high quality. Vacuum casting can also be used in rapid prototyping only CNC machining and 3D printing give prototypes of better quality than vacuum casting.
There is also mold manufacturing which involves melted plastic being put into a mold and unlike vacuum casting, the mold is usually under high pressure.
VI. Roles of Prototyping in Automotive Design
Automotive prototyping is used to come up with a simple prototype to show how the end product is expected to look and work. A prototype is considered the initial step in helping to confirm the viability of a product. The roles of prototyping are divided into three types as discussed below.
A. Manufacturing an appearance prototype.
An appearance prototype refers to a prototype being assembled to resemble the end product in terms of the desired shape, size, color, and image. It is usually made almost at the end of the cycle following revisions of the presented designs. Appearance prototype is often used to come up with marketing materials during the production process.
B. Manufacturing a structural prototype.
This type of prototype is produced through the CNC machining or 3D printing method. It is normally used to test and see if the product can function as required. This is done by the prototype having the suggested size and using the method of installation suggested to identify any problems and work towards solving them. It helps the engineer to see if the structure is rational or not.
C. Manufacturing a functional prototype.
This type of prototype is produced right before the actual production process to prove that the design used is the right one for the product. They are made as a complete replica of the end product to be produced for the public with the right materials used, in terms of quality and durability. The engineer can test the expected product’s efficiency and ability to perform well under the utmost working conditions.
VII. Materials Used in Automotive Prototyping
The various materials to be used are decided upon depending on the different parts to be made and the different design stages. These materials include plastic, metal, and silicone.
A. Metals in Automotive Prototyping.
The most often used metals are aluminum and steel in prototyping, although titanium, magnesium, chrome-based alloys, and other kinds of metals can be used when needed for specified applications. Metals are preferred due to several advantages which include them being versatile, cost-effective, great strength, and high heat resistance.
B. Plastic in Automotive Prototyping.
Automotive plastics are acknowledged because of their versatility and high performance. Also, their light nature makes them consume less fuel. The commonly used plastics include;
-polypropylene which does not easily react to chemicals or heat, making it convenient for its tasks in an automotive.
-polyurethane is also versatile and is very suitable for insulating and can easily be molded.
-polyvinyl chloride which does not easily react with water or chemicals, is durable and cost-effective and can highly resist impact.
-Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. It consists of acrylonitrile, butadiene, and styrene put together through ABS injection molding. It has properties that make it long-lasting, strong, and suitable for electric insulation.
Other plastics include; polyamide, polystyrene, polyethylene, polyoxymethylene, polycarbonate, acrylic, polybutylene terephthalate, polyethylene terephthalate, and acrylonitrile styrene acrylate.
C. Silicone in Automotive Prototyping.
This is whereby rapid prototyping makes use of silicone molds to create some prototype parts. Sometimes the procedure might require putting polymer inside a silicone mold which is semi transparent. Transparency is important since it makes it possible for the producer to see and make sure that the polymer has reached all the desired areas in the other components. Silicones are preferred due to their ability to not tear easily, transparency, and high resistance when they come in contact with chemicals.
VIII. Application of Prototyping in the Automotive Industry
The automotive industry has been using prototyping in the production process for years and it still helps manufacturers of cars to come up with new designs and understand the consumers. The first car to be made using a prototype was called Model T. The Ford Motor Company first used a prototype of the desired car to examine the different features of the designs presented before producing for the public. Today, car manufacturing companies have fully embraced the idea of prototyping before mass production when trying out new designs and innovations.
IX. Future Trends in Automotive Prototyping
We’re in the 21st century and different technologies keep being invented therefore automotive companies too have to embrace technology and new designs.
A. Advanced manufacturing technologies
Business rule 101 is that for a product to be a success once released to the market, the manufacturer has to be able to deal with competition from other companies. To come up with a high-quality product, the determining factor is usually the time taken to manufacture it and the amount of money used on it. There are methods of production that favor both time and the money allocated for the production such as rapid automotive prototyping. There is a new technology used in the manufacturing of automobiles which is known as Massivit 1800 Pro 3D. This has made it possible to make bigger products and more outright ones than before and takes a very short amount of time.
B. Integration of AI and machine learning
The automotive industry is getting some positive changes from Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. AI is focused on carrying out duties that need the intelligence of a human being while Machine learning can be defined as a tool that enables a machine to decide on its own based on its previous occurrences of similar events. These two are being implemented in the production process of automotive, design, supply network, and other activities that arise after the production process. Also, they are being applied in the systems created to assist drivers and deal with risks. AI also is being put to use in the insurance sector and maintenance of automobiles.
C. Sustainable and eco-friendly materials
The automotive industry is advancing from using some materials used in the past which are hard to reuse. Electrifying automobiles is a means to help reduce the amount of carbon emitted by vehicles. Car manufacturers have for some years now been using synthetic leather instead of just normal leather. Lately, they are considering the use of vegan leather which is more environmentally friendly. The companies are also considering recycling plastics due to their harsh effects on the environment and using them to manufacture various parts of a car such as airbags. Also, using bio-based materials will help reduce the weight of a car, making its performance more efficient.
Over the years, automotive prototyping has proven to be very resourceful, and interaction with customers through the production of prototypes has made it possible for manufacturers to understand where to change and improve. Accepting and practicing automotive prototyping is advisable for better products and responses from the market. Prototyping ensures that the customers get quality end products and that the products are safe for use.