What is rapid prototyping?
Rapid prototyping (RP) refers to various methods for the rapid production of prototypes. Quickly fabricating models makes it possible to produce physical models in a short time. The models are assembled using three-dimensional CAD (Computer Aided Design) data. Rapid prototyping is used in a wide variety of industries. Either to accelerate the product development process, to test preliminary results or to visualize initial ideas. Furthermore, rapid prototyping also provides more security for the transition to series production.
Advantages of rapid prototyping
- Fast production
- Effective presentation of ideas
- More flexibility and faster customization
- Save cost and time in product development
- Immediate formal and function testing
- Faster processing and implementation of improvements
- Shortening of product development and time to market
How does rapid prototyping work?
There are several rapid prototyping methods. The fastest and most cost-effective prototype production is made possible by 3D printing. This is an additive manufacturing technology. The component is manufactured by applying the material layer by layer.
CAD (Computer Aided Design) or 3D programming software is used as a basis for prototype production. The data are read by the 3D printer and transferred to the component. Layers of liquid powder or sheet material are placed on top of each other and the model is built up layer by layer. The layers are automatically connected and the prototype is created.
This fast process leads to enormous cost and time savings throughout the manufacturing process. Prototypes are also available quickly. The time can vary depending on the size and number of models, though prototypes can usually be fabricated in just a few hours. This process not only allows prototypes to be produced; components for series production or spare parts are manufactured in certain industries too.
Known rapid prototyping methods
Selective laser sintering (SLS)
Selective laser sintering produces models by means of a laser beam. Various plastic-like powdery materials such as alumides or polyamides are fused together.
During this rapid prototyping process, the workpiece is lowered into a liquid photopolymer. After this a laser moves over the starting material step by step until the desired shape is achieved. SLA is an extremely precise process that allows you to create smooth surfaces.
Fused filament fabrication (FFF)
This rapid prototyping process is a melt-coating process. Objects are produced layer by layer from a meltable plastic. It is usually worked with the plastic ABS, which is very durable and robust.
Selective laser melting (SLM)
Selective laser melting is a rapid prototyping process which is used to make metal parts. The components are subsequently fabricated in the layering process.
3D printing (3DP)
In 3D printing, the model is made of a gypsum-like powder and applied layer by layer. The layers adhere to each other and fuse together by means of a binder. 3D printing is a very cost-effective and fast process.
Different kinds of rapid prototypes
A design prototype is fabricated to test aesthetic and ergonomic features.
Concept model prototype
This prototype provides a general outlook of an idea or a specific concept.
A functional prototype has the most important functional properties that the later end product should have. Based on the functional prototype, mechanical, electrical, acoustic or thermal functions can be tested and verified.
Scale model prototype
This type of prototype is an accurate scale model that is used for initial assembly and function tests. Its purpose is testing and checking the accuracy of fit and tolerances.