The term Rapid Prototyping refers to a class of technologies that are used to produce layers of physical product directly by making use of computer-aided design. These techniques allow designers to produce physical prototypes of the designs quickly, rather than just two dimensional pictures. Rapid prototyping is the fast manufacture of a physical part or model. The creation of the part is usually completed using 3D printing.
In rapid prototyping, the term ‘rapid’ is relative. Depending upon the dimensions of the product, the production time can be as long as a few days. This relatively fast production allows analyzing parts in their very early stage of designing which decreases the resulting cost of design. The costs can also be reduced because rapid prototyping processes are fully automated and therefore, only need the skill of individual craftsmen for finishing the part.
Besides visual aids for communicating ideas with the customers, these prototypes can be used to test various aspects of design, such as wind tunnel tests and dimensional checks. In addition to the production of the product prototypes, rapid prototyping techniques can also be used to produce rapid tooling and fully functional end use parts (rapid manufacturing). Because these are non prototyping applications, rapid prototyping is often referred to as solid layered manufacturing.
How does Rapid Prototyping work?
Rapid prototyping includes a variety of manufacturing technologies including high speed machining, casting and molding. While additive manufacturing is the most common process, other conventional processes can also be used to create prototypes which are:-
- Subtractive process – where a block of material is carved to produce the desired shape using the process of milling, grinding or turning.
- Compressive process – where a semi-solid or a liquid material is forced into the desired shape before being solidified using casting or molding.
Types of rapid prototyping techniques:-
Choosing the right rapid prototyping technology is very critical to the success of any prototype. Each rapid prototyping technique goes through various compromises in terms of cost, speed and material compatibility at various stages. Rapid prototyping does not need to be limited to just one process; one can use more than one technique to assemble a prototype.
Following are the types of rapid prototyping technologies available for manufacturing product designers:
- Additive manufacturing techniques –
- Stereo lithography
- Selective laser sintering
- Direct metal laser sintering
- Fused deposition modeling
- Binder jetting
- Poly jetting
- Other techniques include –
- CNC machining prototyping
- Vacuum casting
- Investment casting
Rapid prototyping will gain acceptance in the business world only if they provide the necessary bottom‐line business value. For this process to be successful, any company needs to go through the following phases:-
- To discover – The discovery phase starts at the beginning of the lifecycle of the product. It allows us to gather insights helping in the identification of the target user and develop solutions that deliver value.
- To define – In this phase, the goal is to define the scope, reduce the risk and ensure achievement.
- To experiment and validate – The goal of this phase is to experiment with different prototypes to test their assumptions and validate their hypothesis. This can lead to the discovery of new insights that were previously unidentified. A prototype is the most cost effective way to validate and refine a product before committing it to the software development.
Applications of Rapid Prototyping:-
Product designers use this process for rapid manufacturing of prototype parts. This can greatly aid visualization and development of the manufacturing process ahead of the mass production. Originally, rapid prototyping was only used to create prototype parts and scale models for the automotive industry but since then the process is being used in a wide range of applications and across multiple industries such as aerospace and medicine. Rapid tooling is another application of the process where a part is made and used as a tool in another process.
Importance of Rapid Prototyping:-
The importance of this process lies in the fact that people are able to gain a more complete picture of how a product will look in its early stage of the design and manufacture, allowing for the necessary implementations earlier in the process. The time it takes can vary from a few days to a couple of months, depending on the methods used.
The importance of the process lies in the following –
- The ability to explore and apprehend concepts more quickly. This efficiency in time and cost allows teams to make it easier to grasp the design of a product.
- Apply recurring designs and incorporating the changes that allow for the better evaluation and testing of the product. This process provides a direction to developing and refining the final product.
- Being able to communicate concepts in brief and with points of fact. Rapid prototyping takes ideas and images from two dimensional standards to hands on products that client can then work in action.
- The ability to thoroughly test and filter a concept. Being able to minimize flaws with a small volume, rapid prototyping helps eliminate costly design flaws.
- Helps designer’s present new concepts to board members and investors so that they can understand and approve a product. This allows designers to feedback from their customers based on an actual physical product.
- Helps companies reduce waste and test products in the real world. The idea is that since an initial prototype is hardly ever ideal, rapid prototyping makes a series of releases possible that allow for the nearly perfect modification the product.
Benefits of Rapid Prototyping for business:-
Rapid prototyping at workplace is a rigorous process well worth to effort as it is motivated by customer needs, is collaborative and reduces the risk of failure or creating the wrong product. It includes short feedback processes to constantly deliver value, check possibility and close any gaps between anticipation and reality. Rapid prototyping helps addressing a workplace hazard. Various benefits of rapid prototyping are:-
- Rapid prototyping techniques help the product developers to become more flexible and creative in bringing out new products. Most people tend to believe that once a good version of any product design is presented, it is probably the best possible design solution. By having a few prototypes made, designers are able to think of various design approaches for a certain product concept.
- Rapid prototyping is a low cost option for the construction of prototypes, especially when the cost of the time needed to manufacture a prototype using more traditional methods is involved. While the cost for rapid prototype parts is always higher than production parts, tooling outlays are mostly minimal. In terms of production tooling, rapid prototyping will likely have minimized failures that would otherwise have resulted in costly tooling remakes.
- Rapid prototyping also provides the opportunity to conduct genuine market studies with prototypes that feel realistic and worthy of genuine opinions. Gaining early data on how the market accepts them or reacts to them is very valuable information which can be used to improve it and ultimately increasing sales.
- Product development is often very chronological, but rapid prototyping places efforts parallel to it. Once a prototype design is completed, rapid prototyping can be used to push a product to market quickly. This yields greater control over a product’s launch and early market adoption in the market.
- Prototyping is important in different stages of design. From conceptualization at the ground level and determining the feature aspects of the prototype, rapid prototyping techniques can help provide designers with a good visual as well as physical understanding of their product and see for themselves how their product will eventually come out in the market.
It is an essential part of almost any modern manufacturing organization’s new or supporting product plan. The benefits of improving design quality, lowering the costs, providing an evaluation tool for the market and reaching out to the market quickly, provides more productive development cycles which will result into better products for consumers with better profits and revenues for the businesses.