By James Richardson
A hundred years ago if you wanted to make a prototype, you broke out your hammer, chisel, lumber, metal, forge and other brawny hardware.
Today, you use a keyboard and a mouse.
Although 3D modeling software has been around for many years, it was very expensive and used mainly by large corporations.
In the past 10 years, the cost of the 3D modeling software has plummeted. Quality computer-assisted drawing or CAD software can be found for under $200 – putting a powerful tool within reach of independent inventors.
Heretofore, inventors who had fashioned a proof-of-function prototype typically hired an industrial designer to add form and style. The parts drawings, dimensions and specifications were drawn in two dimensions using conventional drafting tools or 2D drafting programs and printed on paper.
These prints were the method of communication between the designer, engineer and the potential manufacturer. The inventor had only a sketch to look at and views and sections of his invention in two-dimensional engineering drawings.
Solid modeling software “builds” parts to scale, creating virtual shapes with exact dimensions. The parts have all the draft angles and other restrictions imposed by manufacturing processes. Solid modeling software has the ability to monitor all those design decisions.
Parts can be attached to other parts and articulated – the results can be subjected to all sorts of engineering analysis. The best design has to use the most appropriate and cost-effective manufacturing method. This makes the product retail-friendly and keeps the competition at bay.
But here is the best part – inventors can view their virtual inventions in three dimensions. They can rotate, section and isolate assembly parts to see how the product is put together.
Inventors working with design firms can print out a view, mark it up, scan it and email it back to a designer to indicate a revision. The communications become seamless. The revisions are in scale. Everything is fast. Everyone saves time and money.
Another benefit: Photo realistic renderings can be used in sales and market research literature before you have committed to manufacturing the parts. You can create catalog sheets and marketing literature.
You can even use these drawings to share with your patent attorney or patent agent, who will likely find them extremely helpful when trying to figure out how your invention fits together and operates. In some cases you might even be able to use these drawings in a patent application, particularly a provisional patent application.
Keeping It Real
A computer-generated file is not a real part, so eventually you will need to move forward toward creating a physical prototype.
You can send edrawings via email to a company that produces stereolithography reproductions (SLRs).
Stereolithography is three-dimensional printing. Parts are accurate to a few thousands of an inch in all dimensions. When assembled you have an exact working prototype rendered in plastic. Sales orders from retailers or distributors have been obtained using these SLR prototypes.
The cost is a function of the size of the part. A part 2 inches by 6 inches by 1 inch high will be in the range of $250 to $300 each.
3D software controls computerized milling machines. As a result, 3D modeling is the standard method of communication in manufacturing.
Manufacturers can plug the digital information from 3D software and SLR work directly into their computer controlled milling machines. That information also typically contains material selection, surface finish and order quantities. It’s all automatic. It’s all seamless.
Using this process you can go from a 42-part assembly in 3D in the computer, to manufacturing and first production samples that are perfect. The manufacturing can be next door or the other side of the world. The language is machine to machine by computer code.
No forgetting to do something, no coffee breaks. It’s very impressive.
For those interested in learning more, email Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org and he will send you a free 3D edrawing sample that can be viewed, rotated and manipulated.
Did You Know?
Many CAD software companies will allow you to test-drive their product for free.
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