There are several material options available for your prototype today, including a variety of metals, ceramics, PolyJet photopolymers, FDM thermoplastics, nylons, and other plastics. Electronic components can also be added to any prototype design!
Another reason why 3D prototyping has risen so rapidly in popularity is because it’s a cost-effective way for inventors of any budget to turn an idea into a reality. Here are a few of the costs you may encounter throughout the development process:
Wondering how much your project may cost? Give us a shout! J-CAD Inc. will review your information and send you a customized quote within 24 hours, with design and 3D printing costs.
J-CAD Inc. offers a number of different prototyping methods, each of which serve different purposes. For example, let’s say you’re an engineer who has a product idea involving moving parts. Your designer may start off with a series of 3D CAD models since these allow for the quick creation and virtual assembly of components.
When you’re ready for your first physical prototype, you may design your idea through BJET or your designer may produce additive prototypes from those CAD models (like an SL prototype for the shell of your product and SLS prototypes for your product’s internal components). If your prototype is ready for functional testing, you might need to choose one or more other processes for optimal results.
Choosing the Right 3D Prototyping Process
While there isn’t one additive prototyping process that is better than the next, one prototyping method may be more suitable depending on which phase your project is in.
SL harnesses the power of a computer-controlled laser to construct parts within a pool of UV-curable resin. As the laser draws each layer, the part is gradually lowered into the liquid resin, allowing the next layer of liquid to be strengthened and solidified.
Benefits: This is a moderately priced option that offers a superior surface finish and that can easily duplicate complex geometries.
Drawbacks: SL is low in strength and limited to being useful only for functional testing.
SLS (Selective laser sintering)
Through SLS, a CO2 laser controlled by a computer fuses layers of powdered material (like nylon) from the bottom all the way to the top.
Benefits: SLS is cost effective and stronger than SL. It can be used with a range of materials, offers great accuracy of form and size, and it easily duplicates complex geometries.
Drawbacks: There is a limited choice of resins for SLS and it produces a rough surface finish.
BJET (Binder jetting)
Known as being among the simplest and most basic of the 3D prototyping processes, binder jetting uses an inject print head which selectively deposits liquid binding material across a bed of powder. This process is repeated over and over again until the part has been formed.
Benefits: It’s fast, cheap, and duplicates easily.
Drawbacks: Products aren’t strong and it’s not a suitable option for functional testing.
FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling)
This process melts and re-solidifies thermoplastic resin (like polycarbonate, ABS or a combination of the two) in multiple layers to produce a finished prototype.
Benefits: Though more expensive than BJET, it’s still inexpensive, offers greater strength, and it duplicates complex geometries well.
Drawbacks: FDM is not always suitable for functional testing and it can take days to produce larger parts. It also leaves a rippled surface and it is not strong on the z axis.
A printhead sprays layers of a photopolymer resin that are cured one by one using UV light. The material receives support from the gel matrix that’s removed after the part is completed.
Benefits: Moderately priced, elastometric parts can be prototyped with PJET. There are several color options out there and it can easily duplicate complex geometries.
Drawbacks: PJET prototypes have limited strength and colors can gradually take on a yellow hue if exposed to light over a period of time.
DLP (Digital Light Processing)
This process uses digital processes to slice a solid piece of material into layers upon a surface of a liquid photopolymer bath which is resting on a movable build plate. Light projected onto the surface hardens the layer of liquid polymer and the build plate moves in increments as new images are projected onto the liquid. Each subsequent layer hardens to produce your finished object.
Benefits: Arguably most useful for producing low volumes of smaller and highly detailed parts, DLP is fairly fast and can produce complex shapes.
Drawbacks: Prototypes made through DLP lack strength and aren’t suitable for functional testing. The materials are also costly and there is a limited choice in resin available.
DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering)
DMLS is the top choice for those who are interested in crafting metal prototypes. Similar to the SLS of plastic resin, this method is suitable for a variety of alloys including:
- Stainless steel
- Cobalt chrome
This process can be used for the smallest of parts and the most detailed of features, and it can reproduce geometries which may otherwise be impossible to machine because it is an additive process.
Benefits: Layers can be as thin as 20 microns and features can be as tiny as ±0.002 inches. This method can be used with almost any alloy and the mechanical properties of the parts produced are equal to those of conventionally formed parts.
Drawbacks: DMLS is expensive and is the slowest of the additive processes.