Customization and Innovation (Editor's Window)1 Apr, 2008 By: Amy Stankiewicz
It's not about using digital technologies to eliminate physical prototypes; it's about adopting strategies that combine the best of both worlds to meet manufacturing challenges.
A recent study released by The Aberdeen Group underscores what many in the product-development field already know: Top manufacturers use innovation for more than just determining which products to offer. They also employ creative thinking when it comes to building the actual processes they use to conceptualize, design, and manufacture those products, which lets them bring their offerings to market faster than many of their competitors.
The report, titled Complementary Digital and Physical Prototyping Strategies: Avoiding the Product Development Crunch, states that manufacturers who customize their product-development process — using a variety of the latest rendering, simulation, and rapid prototyping technologies in a way that meets their particular requirements and challenges — generally succeed in meeting shortened development schedules. Aberdeen released the study in February and is making it accessible to registered site users at www.aberdeen.com/summary/report/benchmark/4642-RA-digital-prototyping-development.asp.
What do these results mean to the manufacturing community at large? According to Chad Jackson, research director of global product innovation and engineering at Aberdeen, it means that best-in-class manufacturers aren't letting the segregated offerings of today's vendors stop them from optimizing their development processes and adopting a customized blend of a range of solutions.
"Customers are applying digital and physical prototyping technologies to their own end," Jackson said. "If you look at the market today, no one solution provider is talking about that message. The real answer here is some combination of complementary approaches. Customers are having to figure it out on their own how these technologies play together."
In other words, it's not the vendors who are creating the multifunctional, hybrid solutions to meet manufacturers' needs; it's the manufacturers themselves who are pioneering the development of unique solutions that help them excel in the competitive marketplace. Given the myriad technologies through which manufacturers must wade to find which tools might benefit their efforts, that's an impressive feat.
The Aberdeen report also states that advanced rapid prototyping technologies are playing a key role in the effort to innovate product-development processes. Best-in-class performers are using 3D printing in all phases of the development cycle to verify digital-design and testing results and assess a product's form, fit, and function.
On a side note, be on the lookout for the May issue of Cadalyst, in which we will publish a special section on reverse engineering that will explore current advancements in 3D scanning technology and provide suggestions for manufacturers looking to implement these tools into their processes.
Are you one of those manufacturers who have succeeded in creating a customized approach to product development, one that melds the benefits of digital prototyping with that of physical? If so, drop Cadalyst a line to let us know about your achievements.