Prototyping in Real Life: Blood, Sweat and Tears or a Walk in the Park?

When an RF Designer is looking at an RF simulation on the computer screen, much has been made already but it’s still only a halfway through the actual product. In a fast-paced world the cycle time from development to market needs to be short. It may be an underestimate to call hard work a walk in the park, but with the right kind of help the journey can at least be easier. 

February 12, 2019 | Trends and innovations

Let’s have an example. A company wants to produce a lens for an antenna. They have a vision of how it should be working in real-life and a 3D model to simulate it. Next, they need the right material and a prototype to prove the functionality. The material must meet a wide range of property specifications: frequency, dielectric characteristics, mechanical properties and so on. After a thorough discussion with the material supplier, the best material is chosen. Okay, all set now? Still nowhere near, this is just where the fun begins!

Premix’s Operation Manager Hannu Kukkonen has seen hundreds of 3D models turning into actual products. In most cases, the RF optimized 3D model is not the same thing as an optimal manufacturable model. In the RF simulation tool all forms are always ideal.  For example, less than 90-degree sharp corner angles are practically impossible to process with CNC in real-life, but the simulation tool won’t show you that. With years of experience, Hannu has just the right questions in his back pocket to make the magic happen and find the compromise between the two models.

“First of all, we need to know the scope – whether this is a one-time prototype, to be mass produced or something in between”, Hannu explains.

This information has a significant effect not only on the cost, but also on choosing the right processing method. While at the early stages it’s about prototyping, the possibility of mass production should be taken into consideration from the beginning. You can CNC machine thick pieces – or almost anything else, for that matter – but injection moulding is another thing. The thicker the piece, the harder it is to injection mould. And, if you are going for mass production, that’s usually what you need.

“We’ve been involved in many prototyping cases and developing the product together with the customer all the way to the mass production phase. Building long-term partnerships benefits both parties,” says Hannu.

All the prework aims at making sure the lens can be produced, one way or the other. The geometry of the design and the desired material basically define the processing method. Naturally, almost any method is a possibility, but in the prototyping phase the choice usually comes down to price. Sometimes prototyping requires some unexpected pre-investments, too. You might need a vacuum jig to hold your piece during machining or a special tool like a bushing ring for automated turning of rods. When all these preconditions are clarified, it’s easier to see what is the fastest, most cost-efficient and risk-free alternative for the customer.

 “Many CNC houses we work with are more accustomed to work with steel or commodity plastics, and not too familiar with PREPERM® plastics. In this case, it’s hard to know how plastics will react when being processed. That’s what we are here for – along with our wide subcontractor network who are familiar working with us and our products,” Hannu tells.

Prototyping with Premix is based on the wide selection of stock shapes in different shapes and sizes: sheets, rods, 3D filaments and components. They are all suitable for making complex geometries, either by CNC machining, thermoforming, injection moulding or making bigger constructions out of blocks.

 “As always in real-life, there’s a chance of surprises when processing, no matter how good you are prepared. Sometimes the designs just can’t be processed as originally planned. Luckily, there’s always a plan B,” Hannu tells.

In addition to the selection we have in stock, we can tailor the material according to the customer needs. Need to have multiple Dk’s in one design, for example? We have experience in that, too. Just contact us for more information!

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