It is common knowledge that the process of designing a car is very complex and multilevel. Despite that, new models are appearing more and more often so a demand for a drastic design and verification time decrease is significant. One of the ways to decrease the time required to manufacture a new model or a new part of a car can be to decrease the time required to manufacture the prototypes. Therefore, designing and processing automotive parts prototypes are very important.
What kind of prototypes are required for the automotive industry?
During the process of automobile design and manufacturing development, prototypes are absolutely irreplaceable at a number of stages. This is due to the fact that automobile industry deals with mechanisms that may endanger human life. This reason greatly increases the conditions the automotive parts and the whole assembly must meet in order to be certified and released. So, in order to check the manufacturability and safety of the car along with its performance, the following prototypes are necessary:
Design validation prototypes. When the product is initially designed, it is usually created in a virtual environment and is represented by a volumetric solid model. However, this model does not take some things into account, the main of them being the ability to assemble parts into the whole mechanism. Since 3D-modelling assemblies may intersect during the process of assembling, it is not always evident that some mistakes are present. That is, to say, not counting inefficiencies. Design validation enables the designer and manufacturer to experience the creation of the product in a physical form.
Production testing prototypes. This is a more advanced type of prototype, which is made from the same material, as the final product will be. The main point of creating this prototype is to see whether all the parts can be machined and whether their geometry can be changed in order to decrease the amount of machining.
Customer testing prototypes. The main purpose of any entrepreneur is to make his product attractive to as much consumers as possible. This goal cannot be achieved without a dialog between the manufacturer and the consumer. This is why consumer testing is so important. Another way to efficiently use these types of prototypes is to present them to the investors for future buyers as an advertisement. This is why it is important to make such parts user-friendly.
Manufacturing validation prototypes. Those are the last and the most expensive and time-consuming to be made. However, they also represent the final stage of the design and manufacturing preparation stages. The main point here is that the manufacturing process for mass market is much more complex from the manufacturing process of a fully-functional prototype. If you have created one new model of the car, it does not mean that you will be successful in manufacturing, say, a thousand of such cars per year. The manufacturing process for such a volume must be thoroughly optimized and must have a fixed manufacturing time, which, multiplied by the number of cars in the volume will be less than the working hours in a year. This is why manufacturing validation prototypes are so important. They allow the manufacturers to estimate this time and judge the thin places of the manufacturing process.
Methods for making automotive prototypes
As the industry developed over the years, newer and newer ways to increase the rates of prototyping had been created. Choosing the correct method for creating the prototype plays a large role in the final lead time of the whole product. In the end, the main question is between the closeness of the prototype to the final product and the rate at which it can be made. As you can understand, those two parameters are inversely proportional. They also differ with the stage of the whole project for which it will be used as described earlier.
Rapid Prototyping methods in the automotive industry
Rapid prototyping methods have made a large breakthrough in the industry of automotive parts because of their manufacturing time that is considerably lower than that of simple parts. The main technology here Is additive manufacturing. This is an innovative method where the final part mass is higher than that of the initial stock. As you can understand, this is achieved by adding material rather than subtracting it or rearranging, as it is done in other manufacturing methods. The secret to additive manufacturing is in slicing the part 3D model into a number of layers and sintering plastic or metal that is laid in the area where the model cross section meets current slice. The advantage of this method is the ability to manufacture almost any part without the need for tooling or some special fixtures. The precision and the surface finish of 3D-printing methods in regards to plastic are also satisfying. Altogether, you could say that this method is really useful for creating plastic prototypes on every stage of the development and metallic prototypes on earlier stages of the process since those have lower surface finish than is usually required.
CNC machining in prototype manufacturing
At the production testing stage, it is important to implement the machining processes close to those of the final product that is why CNC machining plays an important role in the manufacturing of the prototypes. Modern CAM systems allow a fast generation of the manufacturing program that controls every movement of the cutting tool. On the earlier stages, the stocks used are mostly blocks of metal but as the process comes closer to completion, cast and formed stocks are used to decrease the amount of wasted material. CNC machining prototyping is mainly used to create parts with outstanding strength or to test the manufacturing process for mass production.
Automotive prototyping is a very important process in regards to a new car development. It is necessary for almost every stage of designing and manufacturing preparation of the project. This is why it is so important to decrease the amount of time required to manufacture prototypes. The most productive way to achieve this is to use the innovative additive manufacturing processes or the modern systems of CNC machining that enable manufacturing the part with a minimum of positioning.