Distinguishing Between Rapid Prototyping and 3D Printing

For over 25 years the process of building 3D physical models layer by layer from a series of CAD data has been available to those within the design and development industry however the official title for this technology has proven a topic of much debate. Recently a shift in pricing and availability has led to greater public interest in this additive layer technology which in turn has led to a clear winner emerging. 3D Printing has become the term of choice when referring to the technology of building models layer by layer.

Therefore we can define 3D Printing as the process of joining materials layer by layer to form a physical 3D model. This definition is perhaps overly simplistic as it fails to take into account variations in the applications of this technology. Take for example the difference between the curious individual interested in creating a low cost 3D design and the professional designer seeking a high quality fully functional model. Both have very different requirements and expectations and it is perhaps a result of these differences that many within the world of Product Design and Development continue to use both the title Rapid Prototyping and 3D Printing when referring to layer by layer additive manufacturing technologies.

Some differences between these technologies include;

  • Part Size: Most 3D Printers are designed as desktop devices and as such have a limited build platform typically producing parts no larger than 250mm cubed. Rapid Prototyping machines on the other hand tend to produce parts no less than 250mm cubed with some building parts up to 2150 x 700 x 800mm
  • Material Choice: With Rapid Prototyping playing a key role in the design and development process there has been significant investment in materials research over the past decade. 3D Printing has also seen an increase in the range of materials available with users having a range of functional materials for a number of applications including concept modelling. Differences remain however in the materials range with Rapid Prototyping offering ceramic and metal based materials.
  • Costs: When sourcing prototype models for an external service bureau significant differences in cost per unit can be seen when comparing 3D Printing and Rapid Prototyping. This cost difference is a result of the variations in running costs between the devices.
  • Purchasing an entry level 3D Printer will set you back a couple of thousand with annual running costs likely to range between several hundred to a few thousand pounds. For an entry level Rapid Prototyping machine you can expect to pay no less than a hundred thousand pound with annual materials and running costs in the tens of thousands range.
  • Ease of Use Geared more towards the individual user some 3D printers are designed to facilitate immediate use without the need for training. Rapid Prototyping machines offer increased flexibility however significant training is required to run and maintain Rapid Prototyping machines.

When selecting the most appropriate of the two technologies it is important to consider the application. 3D Printers often prove an invaluable tool for early concept models while Rapid Prototyping machines come into their own for the production of marketing samples or low volume production of production quality components.

Post time: 01-21-2017