The State of Prototyping


I could use some guidance. I’m a freshman in college studying civil engineering. Two classes this semester are way more difficult than I expected them to be. I probably shouldn’t have registered for both this semester, but there’s no going back now since add/drop period is over. One class is focused strictly on emerging trends in business, which is fun but also intense because it requires a lot of good research and teamwork. The assignment this week is fairly hard. We’re supposed to suggest the state of prototyping as a practice/technology and include some relevant examples. The scholarly articles that I’ve found through library resources are pretty limited, so I need help with a brief overview.

You might not realize it, but prototyping, otherwise known as additive manufacturing, has a rich history that goes back almost 40 years. We owe everything to Charles Hull, who invented stereolithography, which is the process by which designers can produce three-dimensional models using digital data. Prototyping was thereafter reserved almost exclusively for commercial manufacturing purposes due to the financial investments required. Flash-forward some three decades to find that prototyping has now made its way into the individual consumer space. That’s excellent news for professionals and hobbyists alike--yourself included.

The most recognizable way to prototype is by tapping into 3D printer technology, which utilizes miniaturized stereolithography to produce small-scale models similar to larger additive manufacturing equipment. When first introduced, 3D printers designed for consumer hobbyists were still rather cost-prohibitive, but prices have fallen considerably since then.

That being said, as a student, there’s no doubt that you’ll be exposed to the advantages that prototyping offers right along with the devices that enable it. In other words, don’t feel immediately obligated to invest in a 3D printer until you learn more. The process of prototyping bears a close resemblance to the scientific method and for good reason; it’s all about thoughtful experimentation and validated learning. Prototyping can also produce unanticipated value. Roger Martin at the Harvard Business Review discusses some of the unexpected benefits of rapid prototyping. The implications are important to consider.

The first article hyperlinked introduces several examples that are highly relevant. The medical industry successfully printed a transplantable human organ and functional prosthetic limbs. Consumer products manufacturers are retailing affordable 3D printers for kids. Engineers at the University of Southampton built and flew the first completely 3D printed unmanned aerial aircraft. And people can even resort to printing a gold or silver engagement ring. This is all to say that the practice has graduated from relative obscurity.

Prototyping has also become much more accessible as it’s grown in popularity. The practice was once cost-prohibitive for anyone outside of the commercial or research arenas, but that’s since changed almost entirely. Author Michael Nunez at Gizmodo reported that Mattel, one of the world’s largest toy makers, is releasing its own 3D printer explicitly targeted at children. Priced at $300, the ThingMaker 3D is a prime example of the technology becoming accessible to the masses. This could have important implications for childhood development, because it exposes kids to experimentation and technology in a way that’s both understandable and enjoyable.

3D printing has also taken the hobbyist DIY (“do it yourself”) movement by storm. Writer Alan Henry at LifeHacker explains how to get started with 3D printing without spending a fortune. His article showcases exactly how easy it can be to begin prototyping from scratch. You can tap into community hacker labs and workshops if you’re fortunate enough to live in a city that’s prioritized them. Another option is exploring a 3D printing service, which would let you avoid investing in equipment yourself and also allow you access to experts.

You can say that the state of prototyping is quite healthy and promising, especially given these highlighted examples. While nothing is certain, prototyping is unlikely to fade away anytime soon.

“Look at usual things with unusual eyes” -- Vico Magistretti

Content Provided by Scholarship Media

UTA Radio on Facebook

Twitter Feed

UTA News