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Prototyping -- what do you use?

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I'm actually not an engineer, I'm a business student. I was wondering - for all you engineers who work at small to medium (500 or less) size firms - what kind of prototyping you guys use. Specifically, prototyping that does not use 3D printing (or does not use in house 3D printing). I'm trying to get an idea of the costs you guys face when using products that aren't 3D printing or use another firm to produce your prototypes. The reason for this is that I'm trying to get an idea of the costs of a firm buying a printer vs. using another product or giving the job to another firm to produce.

Any links to firms that do 3D printing for you or produce an equivalent product would be very handy. Specifically pricing.

Thanks a lot.

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Your question is vague.

There are many types of prototyping and many 3D printing styles, techniques, devices, and such. Many (most?) engineers don't do 3D printing of any sort. It's often more of a design tool or a niche for most. Some industries will do a LOT of 3D printing, others little and others none.

I have an Architect associate who does his models in AutoCAD then 3D studio and then builds them with wood, cardboard, Papier-mâché, toothpicks, Popsicle sticks and other things of the sort.

Some of the advantages of owning a printer are:

security - particularly if you are working on any classified or business intellectual property

speed - get it done now, useful not only for fixing broken things, but also in rapid prototyping and iterations. Waiting days to see if something fits may be costly enough to justify the cost of buying

payment processing - many organizations have spending control that increase the total cost of procurement, often by $25-50 per transaction - buying many small items quickly makes for a high cost

profit and overhead - if you need to do a few pieces to show then outsourcing the printing makes sense. At a certain point though, it will become cheaper to do it in-house.

These muddy the question and place more of a qualitative decision vs. the quantitative process that many business people want. I would use a Quantitative Strategic Planning Matrix to identify the variables and the importance of each.

If you haven't already, look up the wikipedia and the references.

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