The Intersection of Digital and Physical: Smarter Modeling for Better Prototypes

Modeling to prototyping

The Intersection of Digital and Physical: Smarter Modeling for Better Prototypes

The modern world is becoming increasingly digital with each passing day. While there are many benefits to digitization in manufacturing, including the ability to build robust “digital twins” of equipment and processes, in the end, digital assets still represent tangible parts of our reality. 

In fact, some might argue that manufacturing is one of the most material industries there is. Despite advancements in technology and digitization, our ultimate job is to make products that are used in the physical world. 

This tension between the digital and the physical is evident in many aspects of manufacturing, including the transition from modeling to prototyping. 

Differences Between Modeling and Prototyping

Modeling and prototyping are critical phases in the planning stages of manufacturing services. Since one is digital and the other is physical, it’s important to consider their differences and how they work together. 

3D ModelingModeling and prototyping

Modeling is a digital process that involves creating 3D CAD models. Designers and engineers have complete design freedom, and this unbound creativity can be beneficial early in a part’s lifecycle. 

Initial models don’t need to translate perfectly onto the manufacturing floor, and the first CAD model you come up with likely won’t be the final design for your part. On the other hand, designing in the digital space can create challenges, because engineers may design features and parts that are so impractical they could never exist in the real world. 

3D modeling is best understood as an interactive process for capturing design intent. It’s a starting point from which to make continuous calculations and real-world considerations before the design reaches its final stage. 


Prototyping is an opportunity for bringing your part into the real world for the first time. During this phase, customers typically consider the implications of a design, including how manufacturable it is and which manufacturing services are optimal from the perspectives of quality, cost, and lead time. 

It’s common for designers and engineers to return to the drawing board and make additional adjustments to a design to optimize it for manufacturability throughout the prototyping phase.

Tip: Consider Manufacturability Early in the Modeling Phase

The transition from model to prototype can be bumpy. The unencumbered creativity that designers and engineers have during the modeling phase is advantageous early in the design process. But it’s critical to remember that the goal of product design and rapid prototyping is to make a real, tangible part, quickly and cost-effectively. 

Ensuring a part’s manufacturability means considering essential elements like tool clearances, cost, capabilities, tolerancing schemes, and materials. There’s nothing wrong with beginning the modeling phase focused primarily on design possibilities. But you can save time and money during prototyping and production if you consider Design for Manufacturing early on.

Design and manufacturing are both incredibly challenging on their own, not to mention in combination with one another. Recently, Alchemy Industrial Co-Founder & CEO Mush Khan asked his LinkedIn followers which is harder: design or manufacturing? It was a close vote, with 57% of respondents choosing design and 43% selecting manufacturing. 

When you’re developing a new prototype, you need an expert in your corner to help you make strategic design and manufacturing decisions. At Alchemy Industrial, we know what it takes to transition from a digital model to a physical prototype and can help ensure that each phase is the best use of your time and investment. 

Reach out to our machine shop in Houston today to learn more about Alchemy Manufacturing Studio, our proprietary approach to prototyping, production, and more.