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Product and process innovation has always been a priority at AirBoss

But what makes us special when it comes to rubber innovation?

Over time, our specialists have improved process efficiency in ways that open avenues to develop, test, and mass-produce unique rubber compounds and products. What’s more, we do so in a way that can result in innovative improvements every step of the way.

One of AirBoss’s most impactful innovation implementations comes in the form of rapid prototyping. Through our rapid prototyping capabilities, AirBoss rubber experts can produce multiple iterations of a product or compound design in-house at a fraction of the cost it would take to conduct traditional research and development modeling.

Rapid Prototyping 3d printer in use

What is Rapid Prototyping?

What exactly is rapid prototyping? Rapid prototyping is a blanket manufacturing term applied to the process of quickly producing product or compound models for testing purposes. A lot of our rapid prototyping is done with 3D printing.

“We have two different types of 3D printers in our facility that we use for different types of parts. We’re expanding our capability by finding new materials we can use with these,” says AirBoss Engineered Products’ Senior Product Development Engineer, Mark Nordhaus. “We’re evolving and trying to keep up with the new technology to the best of our advantage.”

Rapid prototyping through 3D printing allows AirBoss engineers to work directly with our research and development team to design, iterate, and machine/mold/print brand-new parts in less time and at a much lower cost than traditional prototyping.

“We saved remaking a $20,000 tool because we 3D printed a part. When I reviewed that with our manufacturing manager at the time,” explains Nordhaus, “we both agreed that the part we just kicked off wasn’t going to work. We could tell just by looking at it physically. It was such an advantage having the part in our hands. We modified it the next day, caught it before the tool went into production, and it saved us a lot of time and money.”

How In-House Rapid Prototyping Improves Manufacturing Efficiency

Rapid prototyping has a number of benefits for AirBoss’s manufacturing processes, one of which was bringing crucial processes in-house.

Benefits of in-house rapid prototyping include: 

  • Quicker turnaround times for product modeling and testing
  • Ability to test multiple iterations and variations of the same product
  • Drastically reduced costs for prototype design and production
  • Streamlined fit and function assessments
  • Low-risk, high-reward testing capabilities
  • Reliable, durable product prototypes
  • Different material options

Each one of these benefits itself would be a welcome improvement to product development efficiency. That they all apply under the umbrella of rapid prototyping for AirBoss is a game-changer.

3d printer printing rapid prototype

Rapid Prototyping and AirBoss Product Innovation

Rapid prototyping makes iterative development cheaper and quicker. Although not necessarily a conventional way of looking at it, iterative development and learning from what doesn’t work is actually a big part of manufacturing innovation, and it’s from product and compound design revisions in this development process that we can gain important insights.

Creating prototypes through traditional methods, such as having a manufacturer make and send a part for testing, is both time-consuming and expensive. We’d have to repeat the process if the design didn’t quite work, and before you know it, we’ve spent more time and resources than we wanted. In this traditional model, development of this nature is expensive and time-consuming. Rapid prototyping through 3D printing can make it much cheaper and quicker.

Rapid prototyping through 3D printing makes failure cheaper and quicker.

Today, AirBoss engineers can often design, mock-up, print, test, reiterate, re-test, and re-design a rubber part (in any number of variations) in less time than it would traditionally take to prototype a single product. This, in turn, speeds up the entire innovation process and allows our specialists to continuously create unique rubber products and compound applications.

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The Future of Rapid Prototyping at AirBoss

For now, AirBoss is comfortable being the tip of the spear, so to speak, when it comes to process innovation. This takes the shape of rapid prototyping, 3D printing, and automation for both our research and development lab and the manufacturing floor.

Going forward AirBoss intends to continue looking for technology, tactics, and out-of-the-box rubber applications that can improve efficiency while reducing resource waste. For AirBoss’s Mark Nordhaus, improvements on the horizon are as simple-but-impactful as adding new printers to the mix—ones that can utilize more materials for even greater prototyping capabilities.

“We’re looking into using some tougher plastics. We want to 3D print a part that will be just like a production plastic part,” he says. “3D printing is still evolving as a fairly new technology. We’re trying to use the most advanced technology that’s out there, the newest materials, the newest machines, so that we’re keep right at the cutting edge of prototyping.”

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