Prototype Design

Prototyping is one of the most important steps to achieving success in new product development. Nothing helps you learn more about your new product than seeing, touching, and using a prototype. Prototype Design is a daily activity at 4D.

Supply and testing of prototypes is a part of virtually all our design projects. Hand crafted models are still used in some instances, but the explosion of rapid prototyping technologies over the last decade or so have changed how designers work.

Prototype Design Explained

Additive rapid prototyping is the process of adding material or ‘printing’ a component straight from data created in a 3D CAD package. There are many variants, so it may be useful to explain some of the jargon;

3D printing – This term is often used as a catch all expression to refer to processes that add or print material in layers. In the professional world, 3D Printers are more specifically rapid prototyping machines that melt layers of plastic filament to build up a finished component over time. They tend to be at the lower end of the cost spectrum and wouldn’t give the best accuracy or surface finish when compared to other techniques.

Steriolithography (SLA) – A process that builds prototype components in thin layers from a liquid resin. A laser is used to cure each layer to give a relatively accurate result. Large parts can take many hours to build. There are some small scale SLA machines on the market, but most tend to be large and expensive to run, so are often operated by prototyping bureaux’s in an industrial setting.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) – A process that builds prototype components in thin layers from powdered nylon. A laser is used to cure each layer to give a relatively accurate result. Large parts can take many hours to build. As the finished component is nylon, it is quite tough and flexible, so this process is useful for building prototypes that may get rough handling. It can also be used for production in some instances to avoid the need for injection mould tooling.

Vacuum Casting  – Presentation quality prototypes can be created using vacuum casting of polyeurethane resins into soft silicone tools. When graphics are applied, and all parts finished in the correct colours and surface finishes, it’s hard to tell the difference between a prototype and a manufactured item. Often they will be visually identical, but not quite as robust.

Selective Laser Melting (SLM) – Similar to SLS, but the powdered material is a metal. The laser required is much more powerful as the metal powder is melted to form a solid. Useful for creating high value components in medical, aerospace, and other high value engineering industries.

Rapid CNC machining  – Used to produce very accurate, usable components on a CNC lathe or milling machine, very useful when creating components that must use production intent plastics or metals. This can also be done straight from 3D CAD data, resulting in fast delivery times.

4D have a global supply chain of the great prototyping companies, which are called on depending on each projects specific requirements, meaning you get the best, most appropriate prototype for your project. We don’t make decisions based on our in house capabilities, rather our clients’ requirements and budget.


STEP 1 – Get in touch with 4D and explain your requirements. If you need us to sign a non disclosure agreement to protect your unique idea, that’s fine.

STEP 2 – When we understand what you need, we will create a written proposal which details each stage of the design process that we would recommend you undertake, how much this will cost, and how long it will take.

STEP 3 – You can commission us to deliver one stage at a time, so you remain in control of your budget.

STEP 4 – We work very hard to deliver work that exceeds your expectations and delivers value to your business.

STEP 5 – Any IP generated is wholly assigned to you when the work has been completed and paid for.

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During your free consultation we can:
  • review your existing product
  • offer ideas for improvement
  • discuss your new product
  • clarify the product design and development process
  • discuss costs and timescales
  • schedule your new project!

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