Published 22nd June 2016 by   |  Articles, Product Design

Prototyping and Design: Hand in Hand Concept Development

CAD designed bonesThe latest in our series of articles looking at complementary services to the product design is on Prototyping.

By the way, if you missed our earlier articles you can find them below:

Why an article about prototyping?

At Cambridge Design Technology we like to offer a full design to production service for companies. In order to accomplish this, we have chosen to work with strategic partners that we believe to be among the best at what they do.

From CAD design software to patent attorneys to virtual reality experience providers – and now prototyping.

In this article we will take a high level look at prototyping and its role in the product development process, look briefly at a range of different prototyping technologies and then introduce Prototype Projects, our long term prototyping partner whom we have worked with for over 20 years.

What is the role of prototyping?

A prototype is usually the next step for a design engineer to ‘realise’ the concept of their design. While in many cases prototyping is used at an early stage of the product development process, it can actually be used right up to the stages just before manufacturing.

Prototyping DesignPrototyping may be used for any of a number of reasons including:

  • Concept prototypes – to reveal what the physical embodiment of the product or component design will actually look like. These are often quickly produced early stage parts, which can give the designer confirmation (or otherwise) that the design works
  • Presentation or display prototypes – to use for visual purposes, such as at company presentation, roadshow or event. These are usually finished to look like the final product or part and may look or feel just like the real thing.
  • Functional or testing prototypes – if the final product must exhibit certain properties e.g. heat resistance, prototypes can be produced using properties that will mimic the properties of the material that will be used in manufacturing, and then tested.
  • Production prototypes – also called ‘pre-production’ prototypes, this final category is produced using standard manufacturing processes to assess the manufacturing viability of the product or component.

What are the different sorts of prototyping technology?

There are multiple technologies used in the production of prototype parts and products. The different prototyping technologies use an array of different materials to produce the various properties that must be present in the end product material – e.g. temperature and UV resistance, flexibility and hardness.

Perhaps the one that most people have heard of is 3D printing (also, and rather confusingly, called Additive Manufacturing or Rapid Prototyping).
There are 4 main types of 3D Printing:

  • Prototype SkullSLA (stereolithography) – this is one of the most widely used 3D printing technologies, often used to build concept parts using a process whereby the printed material is cured by a laser. A key benefit of SLA is its speed – with many bureaus able to ‘print’ prototype parts within a 24 hour period.
  • SLS (selective laser sintering) – another common 3D printing technology, SLS is different to SLA in the nature of the technology used to produce the part – where powder is ‘sintered’ layer by layer into a final build. The process is suitable for low number production manufacturing.
  • FDM (fused deposition modelling) – also used in production manufacture and ideal for lower cost part production, FDM is ideal for early stage prototype parts too.
  • PolyJet – the final category of 3D printing, PolyJet can produce smooth and accurate parts in complex shapes.
Video of FDM prototyping

As well as these “additive” prototyping technologies, there are also ‘reductive’ technologies – CNC milling, machining and turning, whereby a solid part of component is manufactured out of metal.

And finally, there’s vacuum casting, whereby as the name suggests, resin products are made under vacuum conditions in moulds which produce runs of up to 20 or 30 units, and where the material and surface quality must be completely blemish free.

If you do not know what prototyping process to use – or simply need advice – just ask your design engineer to specify the technology, based on the material(s) your product will be manufactured in and the characteristics and properties it must exhibit.

How to source your prototyping


Vacuum casting prototype – courtesy of Prototype Projects

While different prototyping technologies may seem complex, it’s worth remembering that your design engineers (Cambridge Design Technology in this case!) will be able not only to specify the prototyping technology and material required, but also to manage the relationship with your prototyping house.

Here at Cambridge Design Technology we have a close working relationship with specialist prototyping bureau Prototype Projects, based in Royston.

With a business going back 35 years or more, they know everything there is to know about prototyping and additive manufacturing – yet have moved with the times and boast a dedicated 3D printing facility.

As part of this facility, Prototype Projects have an SLA machine dedicated only to medical applications and materials, which offers Cambridge Design Technology and our customers in the medical or pharmaceutical products sector a very useful benefit.

Working Partnership: Prototype Projects and Cambridge Design Technology

Prototype Projects logoJustin Pringle, Managing Director of Prototype Projects says “For us it’s always a pleasure to work for Jon Plumb and Cambridge Design Technology. Jon is one of those consummate professionals that really knows his stuff. The design files and part specifications we receive from him are always top quality.”

Similarly, Cambridge Design Technology are happy to recommend Prototype Projects to all our clients should they have a prototyping requirement of their own which does not require design services.

For more information about Cambridge Design Technology or any of the prototyping technologies mentioned here, or just to discuss your next product or engineering design project, please call Jon Plumb now on 01787 377106 or email

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