Why You Need a Conceptual Model before Prototyping

Conceptual Model

Why You Need a Conceptual Model before Prototyping

Picture this: you design a 3D model of a component and send it to your manufacturing services partner. After putting in the effort to create a functional prototype, you realize that there are problems with the component’s fit, form, or function and that it won’t work as intended.  

You now need to go back to square one and redesign the model to get a new prototype manufactured. In this scenario, you’ve lost precious time and money that could have gone toward scaling up from prototyping to production. 

At Alchemy Industrial, we want to help our customers avoid this fate. That’s why we recommend 3D printing a conceptual model between product design and rapid prototyping.  

How Does a Conceptual Model Differ from a Prototype?

We generally consider models to be digital representations of parts, but conceptual models are different. A conceptual model is a physical representation meant to display a part to a customer. It typically isn’t functional, nor is it often made of the end-use material.

However, with a conceptual model in hand, customers have a chance to see and touch the product. Sometimes the model will include subcomponents so customers can see how the different parts will interact in the end-use environment. 

A conceptual model may seem like an extra step in the manufacturing process, but it ultimately facilitates a quicker transition from idea to scaled up production by minimizing design problems during prototyping. 

The Business Case for Conceptual Models

Conceptual models have other business applications beyond getting to production faster. Here are a few ways to think about using them: Conceptual Model

  • Sales tool. Now that trade shows are back, 3D printed conceptual models can serve as valuable sales tools on the road, perfect for product demos. A conceptual model allows end users to physically interact with your product, which has immense sales value. You could bring a prototype, but since a conceptual model is 3D printed, it’s likely much lighter and easier to transport. And a conceptual model still offers end users a clear idea of how the actual product will look and feel. 
  • Training. Conceptual models are beneficial for training internal team members, providing an understanding of a product’s design before prototyping begins. 
  • Minor testing. Since conceptual models aren’t functional, you won’t be able to run substantial tests on them. But you can test minor things, like how liquid would flow through a component or how it fits with other parts in an assembly. You can also test end users’ reactions to shape and color, which is valuable information to have ahead of scaling. 

3D Printing Services for Conceptual Models

We use additive manufacturing for conceptual models for a couple of reasons. First, 3D printing services are fast, and we want to get conceptual models to our customers as quickly as possible. Second, 3D printing allows us to create hollow models with infills that are lightweight and easy to transport. 

There are several additive manufacturing technologies to choose from when creating a conceptual model, and our selection will ultimately depend on the customer’s needs. Typically, we want to get as close as we can to the aesthetic appearance of the component. 

For instance, if the product will be injection molded at scale, we may use stereolithography (SLA) or Multi Jet Fusion (MJF), which produce a similar outcome. Those capabilities are also ideal for conceptual models with small features, as they are capable of resolving tiny details. We prefer Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) for larger models because we can use different infill percentages to reduce weight. 

If you’re looking for a manufacturing services partner who can help you scale up from prototyping as quickly as possible, get in touch with Alchemy Industrial today!