Rapid prototyping is much more than 3D printing

Due to the increased accessibility to additive manufacturing technologies – commonly referred to as 3D printing – this technique is now widely used in the product development process. Although we certainly believe this is one of the most exciting developments in the last decade, we are convinced it cannot replace some conventional techniques such as model hacking or mock-up making.

In collaboration with Howest  and Barbecook, Creax hosted a workshop during The Summerschool of making 2014, to experience the advantages of these old school techniques. The participants were dropped off at a local rubbish dump and were asked to collect ‘interesting’ stuff. Afterwards, the group gathered in a workshop and discovered the actual assignment: “re-invent the barbecue and build a functional prototype in just two hours”.

1. Model hacking: get inspired by other industries

“Model hacking is a practice whereby a new scale model is created by taking pieces out of commercial kits.”

Model hacking is a great way to increase the speed of your prototyping process. Don’t waste any time by making components that already exist. Just ‘cut’ what you need and ‘paste’ it into your model. IKEA hacking is a great example of this method. People start from IKEA’s affordable furniture and invent several new uses and smart modifications.

Secondly, by using parts from other products, you will give your model a complete transformation. Adding some unknowns in the mix can yield surprising results. Other domains and industries will inspire you and you will generate new ideas to improve existing products.

Some students integrated a bicycle wheel, which will enable the customer to move the meat away from the heat simply by turning the grill. How clever.

A few other guys used the pedal system of a dustbin to easily remove the burnt charcoal, a great example of tech transfer across industry boundaries

2. Mock-ups: it’s all about functionality

“A mock-up is a scale or full-size model of a design or device, used for teaching, demonstration, design evaluation,(…). A mock-up is a prototype if it provides at least part of the functionality of a system and enables testing of a design.”

Product innovation is about real products and the relation with their user in a specific environment. So start fiddling with the product, experience the flaws and discover missing functionalities. By modifying the product, new ideas are tested right away. If you fail, just try again. Don’t worry about details, styling or colours. Improving the functionality is the main quest. The prototype should convince others – team members & bosses – of your idea. 

One great idea was to segment the barbecue grill and create a space to hang a bowl for vegetable steaming.

Another group transformed its barbecue so it could be used during the cold and long winter period. They came up with a way to roast marshmallows and heat up hot chocolate or mulled wine (glühwein).

To conclude

Model hacking and mock-up making are two ways to accelerate the innovation process. Leverage existing technologies, integrate functionalities and stop losing time in 3D software too early in the production process. You can focus on the looks & details later.