R&D in automotive is a highly complex systematic project that takes even thousands of people and years to complete. The prototyping industry like CNC machining services plays a vital role in it. It usually takes about five years for a car to go from R&D to market. However, with the continuous advancement of technology, the R&D cycle is shortening. Of course, we are talking about a top-down design process. There is another development way, namely reverse design. Both need to carry out a series of institutional analyses, material analyses, mechanical analyses, etc., and go to trial production, testing, inspection, etc. The R & D processes cannot be omitted.

Different automobile companies have diverse R&D processes. A general R&D process of top-down development includes five stages. They are the market research stage, the concept design stage, the engineering design stage (numerical model building), the prototype test stage, and the mass production stage. Rapid prototyping is mainly involved in the fourth stage.

After the engineering design stage, the automotive manufacturer finishes the general layout design, body styling data, engine engineering design, body-in-white engineering design, chassis engineering design, interior & exterior engineering design, and electrical engineering design.

The prototyping phase includes two aspects: a performance test and a reliability test. A performance test inspects the functionalities to check if they meet the design requirements. A reliability test is to verify the strength and durability of the car. The primary ways of testing for automobiles are wind tunnel tests, test track tests, road tests, crash tests, etc. 

The prototype testing stage involves almost all rapid prototyping methods, such as custom CNC machining services, vacuum casting, 3D printing, reaction injection molding, etc. The prototyping of a car is a big project. The automotive manufacturer usually works with several prototyping companies and assembles all components themselves. Nowadays, it can only take one month to prototype a whole car if needed. The purpose of this article is to explore the role that custom CNC machining prototype services play. 

1. Making the clay model in the concept design stage

In the concept design phase, designers complete the general layout and style design. Then they will make a clay model. Traditionally, full-size clay models were carved by hand. It is time-consuming as well as the quality cannot be assured. It usually takes about three months to make a full-size car model. Now full-size car models can be milled out by a 5-axis CNC milling machine, which only takes one month or less.

2. Making the whole car model for prototype testing

CNC machines can make nearly all automotive parts. A wide range of plastic and metal materials can be used with the CNC machining prototype service. Other prototype machining methods aid in making parts in other materials. For example, soft rubber parts can be produced via vacuum casting. Of course, there are parts that prototyping companies cannot manufacture. For instance, interior trim parts (safety belts, airbags, leather seats, etc) and electronics will be purchased from specific suppliers.

3. Helping with low-volume trial production

After the test phase, the design is approved. Then it comes to the small-batch trial production phase. Some vehicle manufacturers even crash over 100 cars during the crash tests. Reaction injection molding is the best way to make large-sized car parts in small batches. It is often used to manufacture bumpers. For other relatively small components, vacuum casting and rapid tooling are better. CNC machining is not efficient and cost-effective enough to make low-volume parts and only helps produce models for making silicone molds for vacuum casting. 

Apart from testing, the cars in exhibitions are also mostly prototype cars. The purpose of small-batch production is to verify the car's reliability further. Mass production starts if there are no significant problems three months after the trial production.

As a CNC machining service provider, X Rapid Technologies is honored to participate in numerous automotive prototyping projects and has received much positive feedback. If you have any new projects, talk to us and kickstart them quickly!