The following success stories of accelerated product development illustrate ways in which the Rapid Center is serving clients, promoting economic transformation, engaging faculty with the needs of clients and enhancing education by involving students in project-based learning.
- US Conec: Keeping Up with a Fast-Growing Market
- BiOptigen: Field-Testable Functionality
- General Dynamics: Snap-Fit & Threaded Components
- OptiVia: Visualizing Early Design
- Watauga Opportunities, Inc.: Bringing Business Home to NC
- Pintech: Making Beautiful Music Together
- Unicomp: Outsource Close to Home
- Caterpillar: Problem Solved = Money Saved
- US Greentech: Sharing Turf Leads to Product Revolution
- Elk Products: Minimizing Up-Front, Risky Costs
- MicroAudiometrics: Ergonomic Evaluation
This maker of optical fiber connectivity products wanted to accelerate product development to take advantage of its fast-growing market. Using UV Polyjet rapid prototyping technology, we created small parts with fine detail and functionality. Our collaboration with US Conec has continued over several projects, and we welcome this ongoing relationship.
BiOptigen needed field-testable poly-carbonate enclosures for a biomedical sensing device for non-invasive imaging of internal tissues. We used fused-deposition modeling to build prototypes of two imaging head designs that could receive the electronic components and be tested as if they were final products. Prototyping took only about a week – fast enough that BiOptigen was able to iterate its design and test it again without slowing the development process.
General Dynamics brought us in on this project to build an environmental sensing device near the end of the development process. Using several rapid-prototyping techniques, we built snap-fit and threaded parts from both ABS and UV Resin. Because the prototyping cycle is so rapid, we were able produce both fully assembled products and sub-assemblies to check fit and function without slowing the development process.
OptiVia was designing thin, complex parts for a biomedical device in the area of endoscopic medicine. We produced three different rapid prototypes from their early designs to allow engineers to check for fit and strength. In particular, they were able to identify physically weak points and make needed changes very early in the design process.
Watauga Opportunities, Inc. wanted to bid for a contract to make packaging for holiday ornaments. However, time was of the essence. WCU graduate student Michael Clare generated the measurements, created a design using Pro-Engineer and was able to manufacture a functional mold from polyphenylsulfone (PPSF). The functional prototype was used to manufacture several package prototypes, thus proving the design – and Watauga Opportunities won the contract.
Graduate Student Jonathan Godfrey began with a 2-D sketch and an idea from Pintech and created a 3-D Pro-Engineer design for a new electronic drum trigger. The design was used to create approximately 20-field testable prototypes.
Unicomp provides point-of sale systems with magnetic strip readers. They needed to test a design for a magnetic stripe reader to be included in a custom product for a large discount retail chain. We were able to provide them with functional prototypes to help them get the job done right and quickly.
A Caterpillar employee who is also a WCU student teamed with our engineers to accomplish this money-saving project. Digital calipers were being used as go/no-go gauges on seals on Caterpillar equipment. However, the dirty operating conditions led to the need for frequent, costly replacement. The team created a new, inexpensive gauge designed for a short operating life. More than 40 plastic, functional prototypes were produced and tested to prove the design.
WCU graduate student Michael Clare took a sketch of an idea from US Greentech and turned it into a design and then a functional prototype that led to a significant advance in their artificial turf technology. Greentech was marketing a patented artificial turf support system but thought the product could be better. The new design introduced a modular, snap fit system, lateral shock absorbers throughout each panel, and a water drainage system. Functional polycarbonate (PC) prototypes allowed US Greentech to prove the new system and have accurate molds made right the first time.
Elk makes premium products for security and automation. For a custom order, they needed a prototype of a front-panel design for customer feedback. The bad news: the customer didn’t care for the design. The good news: Elk Products had not invested in tooling or other capitalization so it was no big deal! Our rapid prototyping capabilities enabled this valuable feedback to occur in a timely, cost-effective manner.
The product concept was for a hand-held hearing test instrument (audiometer) with a small LCD screen. An ergonomic evaluation using a rapid prototype revealed that the initial design was somewhat uncomfortable to hold and tended to flip over too easily. As a result, a more ergonomic and balanced case shape is being developed. The scaled, solid model enabled MicroAudiometrics to avoid the expense and delay of conventional prototype fabrication.
This work illustrates the range of capabilities the Rapid Center can offer. We would be glad to work with you on your own project.
For Our Business Partners
At the Rapid Center, you will find the engineering expertise, equipment and facilities and capabilities you need – all in one place – to get your project completed within your budget and on time.
- match RP method to development stage and requirements
- evaluate form, fit and function with rapid prototypes field-test functional prototypes to help prevent costly tooling mistakes
- verify specifications using contact or noncontact metrology
- optimize manufacturing methods with input from our experts
- provide advice on intellectual property issues and agreements and much more!
In addition to technical assistance, we offer access to business resources and information that can help you move forward with successful commercialization of your product. Whether you are a start-up or an established corporation, a small or large business, an inventor or an entrepreneur, you will find we are fully engaged as partners with you in the effort to find practical solutions that meet your needs. And you can be certain your intellectual property is protected, under contract, with our analysis and testing agreement (ATA).
For Project Sponsors
If you have a challenging project that deserves serious attention but without the pressure of an immediate solution, we invite you to submit a proposal for our senior capstone project. Under the guidance of faculty and staff and with your help as mentor, our student teams will use a multi-disciplinary, stage/gate process to meet deadlines and achieve results over two semesters – August to May. When your project is complete, you will have project documentation, a fully tested prototype, project solution or new knowledge that you can use or develop further.
For Our Students
Through the Rapid Center, you will be given an extraordinary opportunity to work on real projects – not just samples with known answers; to use what you are learning in your classrooms and labs; to integrate facts with good engineering habits; and to address specific challenges and accomplish results. That experience – that project-based learning -- will give you a distinct advantage as you prepare for graduate school or your career.
Affiliated Faculty and Staff
All of our highly qualified faculty members bring years of industry experience as well as a thorough foundation in scholarly research that keeps them current in their fields of interest. Along with that, they bring a strong commitment both to teaching and to serving business and industry throughout the region. Their hands-on approach to problem solving means they will achieve practical results for our corporate clients; their commitment to project-based learning means they will provide the most effective instruction and guidance for students.
If you want to know more about the work or if you would like to tour our facilities and talk about the capabilities of the Rapid Center, please contact Patrick Gardner. Our offices, classrooms and labs are located in the Center for Applied Technology and in the Belk Building on the south side of WCU's main campus in Cullowhee, N.C.
Visit the School
We invite you to visit the Kimmel School to learn more about what the school is doing as a leader in higher education and as a partner in technology-led economic development throughout the region.