From an idea to the final finished product may go through a long process, in order to obtain the ideal product especially in large batches manufacturing, rapid prototyping is a fast and cost-effective way to help designers build, validate and realize their best ideas fast, because single part or 3D model of product can be tested and improved during the process. Learn what is rapid prototyping and its advantages, benefits, disadvantages, types of techniques, methods, and services.
Coming to the rapid prototyping definition, the term is originated from the manufacturing industry. Rapid prototyping or rapid prototype is the process of involves a collection of many techniques used to quickly fabricate a physical part, model or assembly using three-dimensional CAD (computer-aided design) data. The prototype can be tested before mass production of the part. The construction of the part usually applies 3D printing or additive manufacturing technology. In the process of creation, the engineering product design can be evaluated visually and functionally. Rapid prototyping can also visualize what a website or an application will look like to get feedback and validation from users, designers, and developers.
When 3D printing is used as the rapid prototyping process, it begins with taking a virtual design, then the machine reads data from CAD drawings and lays down successive layers of materials, building up the physical model from a series of cross-sections. The process of rapid prototyping is as following:
Brainstorming -> Prototyping -> Evaluation -> Improvement
Please note that rapid prototyping is not equal to 3D printing, what’s the difference between rapid prototyping and 3D printing? 3D printing is the process to create a rapid prototype, the prototyping often regarded as the result or end product, which can be completed through various manufacturing processes, not only 3D printing.
Additive manufacturing techniques are most common for rapid prototyping, more conventional processes can also be used to create prototypes, such as subtractive methods: milling, grinding, turning or high-speed machining; and compressive methods: casting, compressive sintering or molding. Choose a proper rapid prototyping technology based on the speed, cost, technique development stage, material compatibility, and fidelity level.
Types of rapid prototyping techniques (additive manufacturing and other techniques)
– Stereolithography (SLA)
– Selective laser sintering (SLS)
– Direct metal laser sintering(DMLS)
– Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM)
– Binder jetting
– Poly jetting
– 3D printing (3DP)
– Selective Laser Melting (SLM) or Powder Bed Fusion
– Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM) or Sheet Lamination
– Digital Light Processing (DLP)
– CNC Machining Prototyping
– Vacuum casting
– Investment casting
Advantages or benefits of rapid prototyping:
– Safe. You can collaborate with managers, engineers, the users, and other designers, there are more chances to discover the best idea. Testing the prototype with real users will ensure success and avoid numerous flaws.
– Quick. Compare to the traditional method, rapid prototyping can save much time by completing the design and test in a short cycle. If the model fully meets the requirements, you can start the full production of the part and if it has flaws, work on iterations or discard the idea altogether.
– Cost-saving. Because rapid prototyping conducts the testing at a very early stage, which saves an amount of development cost before back-end product architecture.
– Creativity. Rapid prototype is more conducive to stimulating creativity as think less and ideate faster.
Disadvantages of rapid prototyping:
Rapid prototype also has its drawbacks. For example, when the model is delivered to users and managers, they may think it’s the final product, ignore the further finishing or adjustment during the process and confuse with the real finished product, further causing developer misunderstanding of user objectives. In addition, when all the attention is on the prototype, may cause insufficient analysis of the complete project. And the range of materials that can be used is limited