Materials Direct – On-Line Ordering of Rapid Prototyping to Full Scale Manufacture

10-11-2020 | By Robin Mitchell

When it comes to prototyping, speed is key, but engineers can be expected to pay a small fortune for the privilege. However, Materials Direct offers engineers a rapid prototype service for key materials, including EMC control and thermal management with a 24-hour turn around time at low prices.

What is Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid prototyping is the process whereby a design can be quickly produced for the sake of prototyping. Historically, producing prototyping would often take time as these would either be made by hand, or by a machine which cannot take advantage of scales of production. Rapid prototyping, however, takes advantage of CAD to construct designs using modern manufacturing methods, including 3D printing and CNC. One of the key advantages to rapid prototyping is the ability to shorten the length of time needed to develop and product, and the short the developmental phase of a product, the cheaper it is to develop. This also has the advantage of allowing engineers to spend more time focusing on other areas of product development, such as reliability and manufacturing considerations.

What problems do engineers typically face during prototyping?

While prototyping aims to allow engineers to refine their designs, it is not without its issues. Depending on the scale of the project, the cost can quickly become an issue, and rapid prototyping facilities can be expensive (due to the ability to produce designs quickly). Generally speaking, the cheaper the service, the longer the time needed to produce the prototype, and since time is money, that can further increase costs.

Sites that offer prototyping services are required to be located locally to reduce delivery times. While overseas prototyping services may offer better value for money, their remote location can result in long delays in shipment. Worldwide delivery via priority air does exist, but these services are costly and can eliminate the cost-saving from using an oversea manufacturer. 

Engineers will also find that prototyping services do not offer large scale manufacturing capabilities, and this often requires the engineer to use a different company once satisfied with the design. However, the engineer cannot guarantee that the new manufacturer will use the same process or machinery to produce their end product, and thus runs the risk of rejected batches.

Who are Materials Direct?

Materials Direct are a UK based manufacturing service and a division of Universal Science and specialise in online rapid prototyping as well as large scale manufacturing of engineered materials. With the ability to manufacture custom designs, their materials range includes EM shielding, thermal management, gaskets for environmental sealing, and light diffusers for lighting applications. With 18 years of experience in the materials science field, their products can be found in a wide range of applications, including power, military, aerospace, semiconductors, and automotive. One example of where Universal Science materials have been deployed and machined by Materials Direct is lithium-ion battery packs in Formula E race cars. Formula E vehicles are entirely electric, and the extreme environmental conditions require carefully chosen materials that can safely protect the cells from heat, vibration, EMI emissions and environmentally seal them from moisture and harmful chemicals. Batteries which use pack designs carefully selected and engineered materials provide the ultimate performance. Materials direct are responsible for machining parts in a structurally strong, ultra-lightweight cell carrying materials that also provide fire retardancy again as used in Formula e energy storage systems.

Materials Direct Rapid Prototyping Service

When it comes to rapid prototyping, engineers can expect either a low cost or a quick turn around, but never both. However, Materials Direct challenges this concept completely and offers a rapid prototyping service that is not only cost-effective but can produce custom parts in as little as 24 hours after submitting a design.

The rapid prototyping service, which has no minimum order quantity, does not charge tooling costs and provides engineers with the best price to time ratio anywhere. Materials that are in stock can be used to produce designs in less than 24 hours, while materials that are not in stock are available at a discount. Many traditional services require that an entire sheet of material is purchased regardless of the size of the design; however, Materials Direct only charges for the size of the material that you use.

But the savings don’t end there; a single piece of material can have nested designs at no additional cost. To understand how this works, imagine that you require a rubber gasket for environmentally sealing a box; the inside material, which is most of it, goes to waste. However, Materials Direct will allow for more designs to be nested inside the cut-out. This can provide large cost savings to designs that require multiple parts.

Of course, getting a design manufactured can still cause worry; how do you know if the manufacturer will produce the design as you intend? Are you sure that the file upload worked correctly? Are you certain that your file is not corrupted? These worries are put to rest thanks to the Materials Direct site which allows for viewing of uploaded designs to verify them before manufacture.

MD is With You Every Step of the Way

Once an engineer is happy with their design, they can get the part mass-produced, but can they be sure that the design will be exactly as intended? This is one of the issues that an engineer can face when choosing different manufacture, or worse if a purchasing department is required to choose a manufacturer, but do not fully understand the design.

Materials Direct not only offer a low-cost online rapid prototyping service, but they also offer production-scale manufacturing of parts. This allows engineers to know that their designs were using the same materials and produced using the same process as that during the rapid prototyping stage, thereby ensuring consistency.

When choosing a manufacturer, certain criteria need to be met, and Materials Direct meets the needs for any project no matter its size or application. Credit accounts are available, which allow for more convenient methods of payment, and savings of up to 15% can be expected when compared to industrial competitors. Parts that need to be manufactured can be ordered at any quantity, as well as being scheduled. This allows for large orders to be broken down into smaller, more frequent orders that can help to reduce costs and improve logistics (for example, fewer parts can be stocked, thus saving inventory space). But these orders can also be sent to different locations and manufactured at different sites, this allows for improved global supply chains that may need to send parts around the world for convenience. To ensure that engineers and purchasing departments understand what they need and how to use Materials better Direct services, free webinars will be released soon, thereby allowing the maximisation of services offered by Materials Direct.


Rapid prototyping is one of the biggest feats of modern engineering, and allow for products to be quickly designed. However, price is often a sensitive issue, and if not carefully monitored, can run projects into the ground. Materials Direct not only offers a low-cost rapid prototyping service, but it also offers large scale manufacturing with many benefits that can help save costs in projects, thereby ensuring their success. With more than 18 years of experience, Materials Direct has the experience and proven track record of helping engineers every step of the way.


By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation, developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.