Rapid prototyping is the group of techniques/technologies available to engineers to create a three-dimensional scale model of a physical part or assemble them using 3D CAD data.
RP is greatly broadening the manufacturing industry with its easy transformation of assembling a physical object from a digital model to test for form, fit and function. In its simplest terms, it is the process of creating prototypes to evaluate an engineering product design.
As illumination experts, we are dedicated to stay on top of the competitive landscape manufacturers are faced with today. In a world that is constantly seeking faster time to market, manufacturers need to expedite their time-frame and schedules in the product development cycle. Rapid prototyping offers companies the opportunity to remain competitive by introducing new products faster.
In this article, we discuss the benefits of rapid prototyping, compare technologies, and review different prototyping stages and factors that should be considered.
Prototypes: Indispensable Part of Engineering Product Design
Prototypes are vital especially when it comes to the new product development process. They help eliminate risk and bring a product idea to life. There are many terms tossed around the industry when we think of prototyping.
The terms “prototyping”, “rapid prototyping”, “3D printing“, and/or “additive manufacturing” are commonly used side-by-side. They are used interchangeably, but in fact have different meanings.
Difference Between 3D Printing and Rapid Prototyping
“Rapid prototyping is the technique of fabricating a prototype model from a CAD file. 3D printing/additive manufacturing is the process, and rapid prototyping is the end result. Rapid prototyping is one of many applications under the 3D printing/additive manufacturing umbrella.
Rapid Prototyping is an application used in additive manufacturing to create a model faster than what would be considered the normal process.Let’s look at the difference between traditional prototyping and rapid prototyping. Both are advanced processing methods for prototypes.
They use a completely different process.
Selecting a Rapid Prototyping Process
In order to build the right prototype to match your specific requirements, you need to decide which factors are the most critical based on your situation.
Methods/Technology Available for Different Applications
Stereolithography (SLA) – technology that converts liquid materials, layer by layer, into solid parts by curing them using a light source process.
Laser Sintering – additive manufacturing (AM) technology that utilizes lasers to sinter powdered plastic material (typically nylon/polyamide) into a solid structure based on a 3D model.
Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) – is a direct metal laser melting technology that forms accurate and complex geometries not possible with other metal manufacturing methods.
Fused Deposition Modeling – the most widely used method that uses a thermoplastic filament that’s heated to its melting point and forced out, layer by layer, to create a 3D object.
Multi Jet Fusion – 3D printing process that produces functional nylon prototypes and end-use production parts as quick as 1 day.
Injection Molding – method to obtain molded products by injecting plastic materials molten by heat into a mold, and then cooling and solidifying them. Widely used process to create items like plastic trinkets, water bottles, cell phone cases, toys and more.
How Rapid Prototyping Fits into the Engineering Design Process
The engineering design process is the steps one goes through to solve a problem and provide a solution. In other words, it starts with a problem and ends with a solution.
The steps can vary depending on your project but for the most part includes:
- Build a prototype
Advantages & Disadvantages of Rapid Prototyping
Rapid prototyping has pros and cons, like any manufacturing process.
Advantages of rapid prototyping
Reduced design & development time
Reduced overall product development cost
Elimination or reduction of risk
Allows functionality testing at a fraction of the cost
Improved and increased user involvement during design stages of NPD
Ability to evaluate human factors and ergonomics
Disadvantages of rapid prototyping
Lack of accuracy – If the function of the product relies heavily on the accuracy of the parts, then rapid prototype parts and assembly might not be able to f the same accuracy
Added initial costs – Rapid prototyping costs money due to technologies used and faster turnaround required.
Some rapid prototyping processes are still expensive and not economical
Reduced material properties like surface finish and strength
Rapid prototyping required skilled labour
Limited material range
Overlooking some key features because they cannot be prototyped affects the prototype testing
End-user confusion, customers mistaking it for the finished project/developer misunderstanding of user objectives
Rapid prototyping can reduce the time between iterations and allow engineers to discover inventive ways of solving any design engineering problems.
RP can be used at any stage of the product development cycle, but is most effective early in the process so that risks can be mitigated early and designs can evolve more efficiently. Prototyping helps make educational, informed decisions by gathering data from the performance and reaction to the different prototypes.
About JC Rapid
Founded in 2002, RJCmold is an innovator of on-demand digital manufacturing and continues to lead advances in rapid prototyping and CNC machining. We know what it takes to deliver a high-quality product on time and on budget. JC Rapid employs a team of experts in CNC machining, and takes the best approach to everything we do. Tens of thousands of product developers and engineers across the whole world trust JC Rapid to bring their products to life.