What is Rapid Prototyping?
We can define Rapid Prototyping as a range of processes used to construct a scale model of a product or part using 3D CAD (computer aided design) data. For a long time now people have been using 3D imaging technology to recreate a real life space, where we can visualise and analyse concepts on a screen before attempting the risky business of production. 3D printing technology is naturally the next evolutionary step as it allows us to take those very same images and bring them into the physical world at a faction of the expense and time previously associated with prototyping.
These scale models are not only excellent tools for visualisation but are also valuable in proving concepts through testing and evaluation. Incredible advances in medicine have made through the use of 3D printing technology to make prototypes of prosthetic limbs as well as the fabrication of surgical aids to give doctors and patients the best chances for success with complicated procedures, such as facial transplants and corrective spinal surgery.
Rapid prototyping models can also be used to make the most convoluted moulds and investment casting plates with incredible accuracy due to the digital resolution and geometrical perfection of 3D printing technology. More and more, we are seeing major companies readjusting their manufacturing processes to take advantage of this technology and, with new advancements in print material technology, producing final products as well.
Rapid prototyping has lead to an increase in variety and complexity of products available on the market, and will continue to do so for decades to come. The ease and speed with which innovation can now be made also has been instrumental in decreasing product lifespans before obsolescence across the market.
Why use Rapid Prototyping?
- To decrease the time and costs associated with development
- To increase communication and minimise engineering changes
- To increase chances of success by adding new features and eliminating unnecessary ones earlier in the design process
3D printed scale models allow for greater and more effective communication between all people involved, such as engineers, designers and manufacturers. This allows the developer to make important changes and correct mistakes early in the design process while they are still inexpensive.