Lee Valley Tools Woodworking Newsletter
Vol. 3, Issue 3
January 2009
From the Collection

The Prototype Then and Now

Modern manufacturers have many resources available for creating and testing a new product. After assessment of the need at the executive level, the development of a new tool requires, as a final step, that a prototype be made. In some cases, the prototype will define the manufacturing path and perhaps the feasibility of producing the intended product. Prototype construction can be a long process, as flaws can be found not only in original design, but also in actual tool construction. Finding these errors at the development stage eliminates costly recalls and remedial work after the product has entered the manufacturing stream and been presented to the public. This process applies to all manufacturers, regardless of size.

Prototypes then

The first group of prototypes shown above is the work of master machinist Frank McLean, who with Ed Tucker formed a large part of the Lee Valley manufacturing design team in 1988. At that time, computer-aided drafting and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) was not commonplace in smaller companies, hence all blueprints were hand drawn. Frank had been asked to examine the feasibility of producing a low-angle plane. The prototype's development required that various metal sections be machined and fitted together. As each change or improvement was made, different pieces needed to be fabricated from scratch. Common fasteners were used, and materials were machined and assembled to achieve a test piece.
This was a long process requiring many different skill sets. In this instance, the body of the test plane was cut and milled from angle iron. It appears that not only was the low-angle aspect investigated, but the effect of skewing the blade was as well. From the model, a patternmaker would create an original pattern for the production casting. Based on the prototyping procedure,
a decision would be made as to a final processing system if indeed a particular item or part was to be manufactured.

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