What Is Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid Prototyping is the automated construction of a physical object using additive layer manufacturing methods. While traditional model-making and prototyping methods have been used for years, it was introduced in 1986 when Chuck Hull first coined the term Stereolithography as a method to successively “print” layers of ultraviolet photo curable material one on top of another.

Nowadays, it exists in many different formats including Stereolithography, Selective Laser Sintering, Fused Deposition Modelling, and a wide range of 3D printing methods. The concept remains consistent throughout, whereby a 3D CAD file is sliced using specific software into very thin cross sections (something similar to an egg slicer!!) These cross sections are then drawn by a laser, or extruded from a nozzle until gradually, layer by layer, an exact replica of the 3D data is “grown” within just a few hours.

The part is then removed from the machine, cleaned and finished to a customers requirement.

As parts are laid down in successive layers, there is no limit to the complexity or design features on a Rapid Prototyping model. From one off jewellery pieces to scaled architectural models and even 3D scans of unborn babies, Rapid Prototyping can be used for many requirements.

Parts are traditionally used by product designers to verify on screen CAD Designs, check form and fit, and communicate design intents with customers, colleagues and toolmakers.

Rapid Prototyping decreases development time by allowing corrections to a product to be made very early in the process before committing to any tooling. By giving engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and purchasing a look at the product early in the design process, mistakes can be corrected and design changes can be made while they are still inexpensive.

In the early years, materials were brittle and fairly unstable. The recent advent of tougher, production style materials allows users much more product handling, assembly of parts, and environment testing. In some cases, parts made by Rapid Prototyping methods are increasingly being used as final production parts, thus rendering the notion of “Rapid Manufacturing” where end user parts are built overnight with no requirement for ANY production tooling, a modern day reality!!

Post time: 05-06-2017