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July 6, 2016 at 8:14 am
A CAD rendering ready for rapid prototyping using 3d printing
Rapid Prototyping is a collection of procedures involving computer aided renderings and 3d printing used to quickly manufacture an initial, test version of a part or product. Other terms sometimes used to describe the processes used to create a prototype are computer automated manufacturing, solid free-form manufacturing, and layered manufacturing.
Rapid prototyping is widely used as a way to ensure that ideas which look good on paper or in 3d rendering software are actually fit for purpose in real life. By creating a prototype that you can hold in your hands (depending on how big it is!) it’s much easier to find design flaws or errors, saving much time and expense later when it comes to creating molds and mass producing your concept. The idea is to produce a prototype of your design as quickly as possible in order to quickly get a product to market. In some cases the prototype is made of the same material the final product will be created from. In many instances however prototypes are throwaway objects not meant to last, so they are created from lower grade materials.
3D rapid prototyping methodology uses 3D CAD designs and specialized 3d printing devices that either slice and sinter metal additives, or print in different types of polymers to achieve the prototype. The printers used for metal prototyping use an additive production technology called the DMLS (direct metal laser sintering). With this process, highly sophisticated geometric shapes including rounded or helical shapes can be produced along with holes and undercuts. The types of metal components that can be used for rapid prototyping are stainless steel, aluminum, and titanium.
Prototypes are also commonly created via standard 3d printing technologies.
As the name suggests, turnaround times for rapidly produced prototypes are frequently much quicker than traditional production methods which require molds to be made or pieces individually hand crafted. As a comparison, it’s not uncommon for prototypes to be made within anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours depending on the material the prototype is being made from and assuming the 3d cad model has already been created.
Rapid prototyping is helpful to improve effective communication of design ideas, reduce development time, lower the chance of expensive mishaps, lessen engineering changes and extend product life by adding essential features and discarding irrelevant ones early in the product development process.
Rapid prototyping diminishes development time by permitting adjustments to an item to be made in the initial stages of the design process. Multiple design variations can easily be created, each with their own prototype. This allows informed decisions to be made regarding which design will be most fit for purpose, least likely to break and most cost effective to produce.
If you’re new to the concept, it’s easy to get confused between all the different terminology. 3D printing, additive manufacturing, rapid prototyping, what does it all mean!? 🙂 As a quick summation, 3D printing and additive manufacturing are basically the same process under different names. These processes both involve building a prototype from a CAD file, using layer after layer of polymer coating. This differs from CNC manufacturing, which creates a product by cutting it out from a pre-made block of material. Rapid prototyping is the end result of 3D printing, the outcome rather than the means.
Related reading: Learn more about what reverse engineering is here.