Guest blog by startup SafeRails:

"We have experienced the difficulties of prototyping"

Startup SafeRails won the student prize in ImpactCity’s 2017 The Hague Innovators Challenge. Throughout the year, students Roderick Buijs and Ward Kuiters have been working on fine-tuning their solution for a very Dutch problem. They want to keep cyclists from getting stuck in the tram tracks by developing a uniquely fitted profile. In this guest contribution, they reflect on their journey towards a working prototype.

In order to test whether the SafeRails concept can lead to a working solution, we have been working on many different prototypes. During this prototyping phase, we try to develop and improve our design. In this guest blog, we will elaborate on some of the challenges that we faced during prototyping.

Because our solution has a constant cross section along its length, it is a perfect product for the use of an extrusion process. We have been investigating the possibilities for such extrusion production. However, since each mold is custom made, the starting costs for such a product are very high. In addition, manufactures usually require a minimum production of several thousands of meters.

Testing prototyping methods

That’s why we started experimenting with several prototyping methods to gain more insight into how the profile should behave before we invest in the large-scale extrusion production process. There are many different opportunities when it comes to prototyping. We have already experienced a few. From these prototypes, we try to learn and confirm if our designs work.

For example, 3D-prints are widely used in the early stages of product development. In our project, too, we have produced 3D-prints with different materials. However, the production process of a 3D-print differs significantly from the extrusion production process. Therefore, the material properties are expected to behave differently as well.

Consequently, we have tested other prototyping methods such as silicon molding. The prototypes have a much better quality than the 3D-prints. Also, the consistency of the material is much better. However, for the specific samples that we have produced, the stiffness of the profile was not sufficient. This has sent us back to the drawing table.

Still searching

In general, we found that prototyping methods tend to be focused on the shape and feel of the final product, whereas our design must focus on the technical properties. That’s why we are forced to keep searching for different production methods to continue to improve our design.

We wish SafeRails the best of luck in their continued effort to come up with a working prototype. Interested to stay up-to-date on their journey? Keep an eye on their website.