Prototyping Services

Automotive electronic content is facing rapid changes driven by the need for more fuel efficient, greener, safer, connected and secure vehicles. Powertrain, HEV/EV, chassis, advanced driver assistance and infotainment systems are significantly impacted by evolving vehicle architecture and subsystem definition, more powerful hardware MCUs and SoCs, increased software content, new wired and wireless networking requirements and the need for more testing in support of standards such as ISO 26262. Integrating prototyping automotive solutions in the automotive supply chain development process enables automotive semiconductor, tier 1 and OEM companies to accelerate development, improve productivity, reduce costs and deliver higher quality from hardware and software to electronic control unit (ECU) and vehicles.

When many people think about an automotive prototype, they assume it represents a single step in the validation process between the initial design of the product and the final production run.

In actuality, automotive prototyping plays a number of vital roles during the design validation process that culminates in manufacturing. An automotive prototype can be used to ensure that a product can be made, to decide on the types of materials that are best for a product, and to evaluate what types of equipment should be used to manufacture the part.

In other words, prototyping extends far beyond just a single phase in product development in the automotive industry. Automotive prototypes are integral parts of the entire automotive engineering process that allow engineers to figure out how to make new automotive products that appeal to consumers, to convince stakeholders to invest in a new automotive product, and to ensure that a vehicle will be safe for end users.

Let’s take a closer look at how prototyping is used during the phases of automotive product development: design validation, pre-development, production process validation, customer testing, safety testing, and manufacturing validation.

 

DESIGN VALIDATION PROTOTYPES

During the design validation phase, product engineers can use an automotive prototype not only to gain greater clarity regarding their designs and to validate that they can be made, but also to “sell” their concepts to stakeholders.

A prototype created during the design validation stage is rarely a complete, final model. Instead, rough prototypes made using cost-effective prototyping techniques, such as plastic injection molding, are used to create a simple physical object. This basic prototype can be used to visualize the concept and share information with the entire project team.

PRE-DEVELOPMENT PROTOTYPES

Once a design has been validated and there is buy-in from stakeholders and production teams, the early pre-development stage requires a more refined prototype to determine the usability of the product and to smooth over any design challenges.

Automotive engineers sometimes refer to this as the “mule stage.” During this stage, engineers take donor cars, strip the vehicles down, and place the prototype products in the existing automobiles.

This strategy allows them to see how the automotive prototype will fit in the vehicle and interact with the other parts. It also gives them an opportunity to consider design alternatives that may work better.

PRODUCTION PROCESS VALIDATION PROTOTYPES

After the mule stage, automotive engineering next makes use of automotive prototypes during the production process validation phase at the assembly plant.

CNC machining, metal stamping, and other metal forming and fabricating techniques are used during this phase to figure out the ideal methods for creating the final automotive product.

These types of automotive prototypes allow engineers to spot possible production problems as well as determine the most cost-effective manufacturing processes. Sometimes during this stage, it might be discovered that a manufacturing technique available at one plant is better suited to handle the production of an automotive product.

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