After the Design process: Building your first 3D Prototype Using Plastic Fasteners

storm_clouds“Fasten your seat belts, we are experiencing some turbulence as we move through this cloud cluster,” the pilot announced while I was on a flight back from an Ansys conference in Pennsylvania last month. The lady next to me leaned over and said, “ I never really understand what that means.” It was her puzzlement that reminded me of how most people are confused about how a design and prototype process works.  Heck, I’ve got to remind myself:  why would they need to know?

Maybe You Want to Know

So today, my goal is to help innovators and creators see and understand how the plastic fastener can be a determining factor in the efficiency of a new product or machine design and build. Yes: the plastic screw plays an important role in an entire production process – from design to delivery.

Where Does Product Production Begin?

Bumps along the design and testing phase of a prototype are often concerns consumers in general need not worry about. But in the manufacturing field we know that these are the phases where mistakes are made, where the success or failure of a new product is determined. It is here that design or fabrication mistakes can be so costly that it causes the entire downfall of a business.

Consumers today demand products that get the job done, and they want these functional products quickly. They don’t care about the complicated design or build process. That is something left up to the manufacture design team. Old school engineers remember a time when a new product design took a few years to complete, a time when quality superseded speed. Unfortunately that time no longer exists. Today, most new products need to be in the initial prototype stage in a 6 month time frame, and with the same quality that had in the past taken years to achieve.

That’s where simulation software engineering products come into play. These tools allow design teams to create new products and simulate their functionality at a low cost and in a fraction of the time it once took. Besides being fast, simulations also allow engineering teams to test different materials, composites, fasteners and designs, for strength, better overall design, and durability. All of this comes by inputting different equations, and conditions into the software, with a single purpose, that of making a better product.

prototype simulation

But at some point, the team gets to a simulation stopping point. There are only so many solutions and tests that can be conducted in the virtual world. At some point, the team needs to take this new product or machine out of the Cloud environment and place it on the bumpy road of reality.

Yes, when working early in the design phase, 3D simulation is a fantastic solution that saves time and money. Today, we can use products like Ansys and Maya to optimize and test the functionality and strengths of the design of a product without any significant cost incurred. But at a certain stage of the game, we do actually need to create a physical prototype of the new product idea.

It is here that engineering teams must consider fasteners, fastener materials, fastener strengths, or conversely, their needed flexibility. It is a crucial point in the development process, but many teams just don’t realize that it is these small details that make all the difference in the world to the final design. It is the little things like the type of fastener used that is as much a part of the form and functionality as to the durability of the product being created.

Why Consider Using Plastic Fasteners in the Product Design and Prototype Phase?

Product design has experienced numerous changes in the last decade, and so has the plastic fastener industry. While the plastic screw has been around for near on 70 years, it is only in recent years that it has developed into a fastener with as much strength, durability and form as the metal counterpart. It is now that innovators, designers and engineers should really stop to consider these fasteners as an important design alternative for new product creation.

Plastic Fasteners are Just as Strong as Metal Ones

Until recently, the problem was that production teams did not believe plastic to be a strong enough fastener material. But technology and new chemical treatments, as well as added composite materials can now produce plastic fasteners that are just as strong and durable as metal ones, and sometimes, even stronger. In many cases plastic fastener options offer advantages that product manufacturers cannot get with metal fasteners. For instance, a primary benefit in using plastic fasteners is that they do not corrode; they cause less friction; and they prevent scratching and damage to other parts.

So finding success in product innovation also depends on the inclusion of the right fasteners and the testing of the stress levels of these materials under different environments. In other words, the resistance and durability of a product that uses plastic fasteners, depends on design, environment requirements, type of plastic fastener fabrication, the use of other composite materials and even the size and shape of the fastener. But once the design team gets it right, the product ends up with a better build at a far lower cost.

Important Material Considerations

Designers and innovators should consider the type of plastic fastener they use when creating or innovating an existing product. They must consider the plastic fastener material which can vary greatly and has different beneficial properties for different products or machines. For instance these are just a few of the raw plastic materials from which we make fasteners, and they can be the differentiating factor for the final product:

  • FR-4/G10 is a type of plastic that is flame resistant. It is made of a composition of woven fiberglass and epoxy resins, which offers a higher strength to weight ratio.
  • Polyarylamide (PARA) offers low water absorption qualities and is reinforced with fiberglass to offer a more rigid and unbreakable fastener. Aside from being an ideal choice for product designs relating to liquids it is also an ideal option for products that use certain chemicals, as this type of plastic is resistant to many different chemicals.
  • Thermoplastics Polyurethane (TPU) is also a very rigid plastic but significantly lighter than metal fastener alternatives.

Like the above options there are many other plastics and composites used to fabricate new product designs, prototypes and machines. And the use of these new fasteners result in different and improved functionality in new designs.

The 3D Prototype – How Is It Done?

Once a team has a functional computer simulation of a new product, the very next essential steps in the creative process is to develop an initial prototype. Simply defined, this is a three dimensional version of the product or machine, a functional model is usually not market ready in its initial stages, and in most cases, only a rudimentary version of the product. Engineering teams often make several initial prototypes before making a final prototype, ready to go to manufacturing.

Prototype Testing

Yes, in the design process, the engineering team may have the new product design down to perfection, but it is still only a theory. It is when the team actually starts to physically create the physical 3D prototypes that they encounter the functional flaws and can thereby work on a better build. In truth, an innovator, manufacturer or product designer will always be unsure of design issues and challenges in any new product until they take the idea from the design to prototype phase. It is here where tests are conducted and design teams work out all the small kinks.

Each prototype allows for the testing and refinement of functionality, strength, flexibility and the adhesion or fastening of parts. And when it comes to using the right fastener, a good design team will usually choose to test more than one option.

A Lot to Think About

Whether innovating an existing product or machine, or creating a brand new product, engineering teams have a lot to think about. And although choosing the right plastic fastener does not seem like an important consideration, it is vital that teams think twice about the type of fasteners they use. Once in the testing phase, they should continue to analyze the different possible options. Even when it comes to the basic fastener, a small miscalculation such as an incorrect plastic fastener choice can result in the failure of the product. This is why it is important to consider every build facet when choosing the right fastener, including:

  • Size
  • Composite materials
  • Weight
  • Durability
  • Flexibility

Remember where innovation is concerned research, design and testing are crucial to the success of the product. It is this that allows teams to rectify any additional flaws. Yes. we know, the full design and prototype phases are expensive projects, but product manufacturing failures are even more costly.

As fastener experts, we can help you find the right fastener for your next project. Contact us today, no matter where you are in the design or build process!