Rapid Prototyping: Definition, Types and Its Uses

3D Systems first introduced rapid prototyping in the year 1988. Rapid prototyping is an advanced and beneficial piece of technology that has several uses. Rapid Prototyping is an integral part of system designing process and is helpful in terms of minimizing project cost and level of risk. Rapid Prototyping can be utilized in order to increase competitiveness in the market. Rapid Prototyping has immense potential in the future when it comes to the development of prototypes.

It can be used to check the form and function of a particular prototype. The parts involved in Rapid Prototyping are often used in the process of new product development. The parts are also utilized for visual inspection and ergonomic evaluation.

Rapid Prototyping is considered to be a functional tool for design, engineering and has proven to be useful in the manufacturing process since it facilitates the production of parts without machining, molding or casting.

What is Rapid Prototyping?

The process of Rapid Prototyping involves a set of various techniques which is used to swiftly manufacture a basic model with the assistance of three-dimensional computer-aided design data and information. Rapid Prototyping models can be utilized for the purpose of testing. Rapid Prototyping models can be used to manufacture models for tooling’s, such as silicone rubber molds and investment casts.

In certain cases, the Rapid Prototyping part can be the final part, but in most cases, the Rapid Prototyping material is not durable, powerful or accurate enough. When the Rapid Prototyping material is acceptable, highly convoluted shapes, including parts nested within parts, can be produced due to the unique nature of Rapid Prototyping. In the process of Rapid Prototyping, a particular compound is formulated by joining elements. The process of Rapid Prototyping differs to processes such as eroding, drilling, milling, lathing, and grinding. Rapid Prototyping is recognized by several names such as additive fabrication, three-dimensional printing, solid freedom fabrication, layered manufacturing, digital fabrication, automated freeform fabrication as well as solid imaging.

Methods for Rapid Prototyping:

There are several methods for Rapid Prototyping. They have been illustrated below:

  • Stereolithography – Like most of the 3D printing processes known to man, Stereolithography requires the part to be modeled with 3D drawing software. Subsequently, the geometric dimensions of the particular part can be examined and then divided into cross-sectional layers as well as additional supports. The software involved in the process of Stereolithography is designed to add these supports automatically. However, the product designer is required to monitor this carefully. The parts are designed in order to develop on a platform that is built to move up and down along the vertical axis. After each layer is successfully completed, the platform shifts downwards to become equivalent to the thickness of a single layer. A recoater blade coats the surface on top and the process is repeated. The process of Stereolithography printing is relatively faster as compared to other methods. Although, the method is considerably expensive due to the cost associated with the photopolymer.
  • Selective Laser Sintering – Sintering refers to the process of attaching metal and plastic in granular form with the help of intense heat. It is then heated just below the melting point. The process of sintering differs from welding. There is no support structures required for this process. As the process progresses, the powder is eventually brushed as it is completed. The unused powder can be recycled in order to ensure minimum wastage.
  • Fused Deposition Modeling – In this particular method, the machines involved in the process are considerably cheaper in cost. The extruding nozzle lays down successive layers of material on a platform. It is probably the most common method of three-dimensional printing used by man. Even though this process is cost-effective, it is time-consuming.
  • Selective Laser Melting – This process involves the use of a powerful laser and it requires the material to be atomized. The buildup process takes place within an enclosed chamber filled with inert gas such argon. This process is comparatively not that expensive as compared to the other methods known to man.
  • Digital Light Processing – This process involves the use of a more conventional light source, although it requires support structures. The process is considerably faster as compared to other methods and a more shallow reservoir of photoresin can be used which can also help in saving a considerable amount of money.

Uses & Benefits of Rapid Prototyping:

  • Realizing the design concepts – Rapid prototyping enables designers to realize their concepts beyond virtual visualization. This allows the designer to completely grasp the look and feel of the design, rather than basing it on assumption. It helps designers to progress with their ideas and implement it in their design prior to finalization. It also provides a proof of concept for certain clients in the market who seek for a more realistic and comprehensive product design rather than merely visualizing the design on the screen.
  • Incorporating the necessary changes immediately – Necessary alterations can be implemented simply on the basis of feedback received from customers.
  • Saves time and money – Rapid Prototyping has proven to be a cost-effective and time-saving process. Unlike traditional prototyping processes, rapid prototyping ensures minimum wastage of material.
  • Customization of designs – One of the most beneficial advantages of rapid prototyping is the ability to develop customized products as per the requirements and preferences of a particular individual. No special tools are required to implement design changes in the product. A minor change in the CAD model is all that is required. This feature has proven to be extremely advantageous for manufacturers as it provides a connected experience for the customer with the product.

The above-stated points clearly illustrate the various advantages associated with rapid prototyping. It is gaining a favorable reputation amongst designers, engineers as well as manufactures at a rapid pace. It is indeed a profitable decision to opt for the process of rapid prototyping. This process allows manufacturers to construct innovative products at a low cost and should be celebrated in the manufacturing sector.

Pursuing MCA from the University of Delhi, Saurabh Saha is an experienced blogger and internet marketer. Through his popular technology blogs: TechGYD.COM & Sguru.org, he is helping several brands to gain exposure in front of high-quality web visitors.