Poor or rushed prototyping can lead to overlooked design flaws, decreased market appeal, damage to branding, and ultimately poor product performance. Good prototyping is essential in the manufacturing process – it helps to identify design flaws, refine the design, reduce costs, test materials, and improve communication between stakeholders. By investing time and resources into prototyping, manufacturers can improve the quality, performance, and marketability of their products, while reducing the risk of product failure and associated costs.

With so many variables and potential consequences to consider, how do you get started? Since Precision Color Compounds specializes in small batch orders, we have had the pleasure of partnering with clients that are in this unique position and thought it beneficial to provide some factors that we have seen bubble up time and again when prototyping with polymers. Whether you’re working on a new product or trying to improve an existing one, there are several things to keep in mind when prototyping with polymers:

Consider the Material

The choice of polymer is critical to the success of your prototype. Factors to consider when selecting a polymer include strength, durability, flexibility, chemical resistance, and temperature resistance.

The five most commonly used polymers for prototyping are PE, PP, PVC, PS, and ABS.

1.Polyethylene (PE): Polyethylene is a widely used thermoplastic polymer that is commonly used in color compounding applications, such as packaging, toys, and household goods. PE is known for its durability, flexibility, and resistance to impact, chemicals, and UV light.

2.Polypropylene (PP): Polypropylene is another popular thermoplastic polymer used in color compounding. It is known for its high strength, stiffness, and heat resistance, making it suitable for a wide range of applications, such as automotive components, medical devices, and consumer goods.

3.Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): PVC is a versatile thermoplastic polymer that is widely used in color compounding for applications such as window frames, flooring, and pipes. PVC is known for its durability, flexibility, and resistance to chemicals and UV light.

4.Polystyrene (PS): Polystyrene is a popular thermoplastic polymer used in color compounding for applications such as food packaging, toys, and disposable items. It is known for its clarity, stiffness, and ease of processing.

5.Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS): ABS is a thermoplastic polymer that is known for its strength, toughness, and heat resistance. It is commonly used in color compounding applications such as automotive components, toys, and electronic enclosures.

Consider the Process

The manufacturing process used for your prototype can also impact the choice of polymer. Injection molding, 3D printing, and extrusion are common manufacturing processes for polymers, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. Understanding the advantages and limitations of each process can help you choose the best one for your prototype.

Equipment and the scalability of producing prototypes in-house are important factors to consider. Understanding what requirements and conditions your material will be subjected to during the color and compounding processes is critical. Many customers eliminate potential headaches by taking advantage of both the coloring AND compounding services through PCC so that manufacturing equipment does not have to be recalibrated and the production line remains uninterrupted, ensuring consistent quality control.

Consider the Design

Design is also a critical factor in polymer prototyping. The design of your prototype will impact the choice of polymer and manufacturing process, as well as the overall cost and functionality of your product. Considerations include wall thickness, draft angles, undercuts, and the overall geometry of your part. Accurate color-matching and color compatibility is crucial as it can expose design flaws and has a surprisingly powerful effect on market appeal and brand identity.

Consider Quality Control

Testing and validation are important steps in polymer prototyping. It’s essential to conduct tests to ensure that the polymer meets the required mechanical properties, chemical resistance, and thermal stability. Additionally, validation can help you identify any design flaws or manufacturing issues that need to be addressed before moving to production. Ensuring consistent quality of the polymer is critical to the performance of the finished product. Buyers need to work with suppliers who have robust quality control processes to ensure that the polymer meets specifications and standards.

Consider Lead Times

Lead times for polymers can be long, and buyers need to plan their orders well in advance to avoid delays in production. This becomes an especially big pain point when responding to last-minute changes which is why communication with suppliers is crucial to ensure that lead times are understood and met. PCC’s quick color matching & delivery times and no order minimums make us a preferred supplier to frequent prototypers as we can guarantee consistent quality color compounds on a just-in-time basis.

Consider the Cost

Finally, it’s important to consider the cost of polymer prototyping. The choice of polymer and manufacturing process can impact the cost of your prototype, as can the complexity of the design and the testing required. It’s essential to balance the cost of prototyping with the potential benefits of the final product. Prototyping is an essential step in product innovation – It allows engineers and designers to test & refine their ideas before moving on to production, saving time and money in the long run. The potential impact good prototyping can have on the bottom line cannot be ignored. We hope that these considerations resonate with you and provide actionable insights that will help you make a confident choice in your prototyping needs.

If you’d like to hear more about our services or would like a brief consultation on a challenging project, please don’t hesitate to contact us! Our expertise and machinery specialize in small orders with quick turnaround times, ideal for difficult color matching and any last-minute responses to brand directives or audience feedback.