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.
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
a decision would be made as to a final processing system if
indeed a particular item or part was to be manufactured.