Before the extension of additive manufacturing in industrial sectors, prototyping required costly and laborious processes very similar to those used in the manufacture of final products. With 3D printing, prototyping experienced a breakthrough and, thanks to this, it made it possible to create prototypes in record time and with minimal costs.
Today, thanks to rapid prototyping, companies in industrial sectors can move from their ideas and tests to prototyping faster than ever before. Not only is it a reduction in times, but prototypes made using additive manufacturing offer amazing advantages, such as the high fidelity of the prototypes and the low cost of this ideation phase given the wide variety of technologies and materials available today.
What is rapid prototyping?
It is a set of techniques, closely related to additive manufacturing and 3D printing, which are used to produce models of parts in the development phase from a digital and three-dimensional model. In other words, designers and engineers can move from a digital CAD file, in which they have designed the product model, to a full-scale prototype that perfectly mimics the look and characteristics of the final product. Here is another field for the application of widely used additive manufacturing.
Thanks to the low cost achieved by the equipment, companies can make in-house 3D prints to validate and improve designs from their conceptualization phase. So much so, that design and engineering professionals are able to go from an idea to a real piece in a matter of hours.
Additive manufacturing, in this sense, offers practically unlimited freedom, since it does not require tooling and is capable of producing parts that have practically the same mechanical properties, density or texture, as prototypes made with traditional manufacturing methods.
In the same way, and due to its low cost, designers can perform as many iterations as they need to evaluate and improve their ideas, and they do so based on the results obtained with the real tests and analysis of the prototypes.
All in all, rapid prototyping is a great tool for companies in the industrial, consumer, cosmetic, fashion, architecture… and even food sectors! as they are able to create better products in less time.
What are the applications of rapid prototyping?
The ways to apply rapid prototyping are many and each company will see in the additive manufacturing of prototypes numerous very useful applications depending on the product creation phase in which it is. From the conceptual models to the engineering and validation phases, additive manufacturing is a great tool that helps improve products before moving into production.
In this sense, rapid prototyping can be applied in several phases of the production chain:
- Conceptual models. Testing concepts and validating ideas by testing the viability of products has never been easier, faster and cheaper.
- Functional prototypes. High-fidelity prototypes very accurately represent the final product. In this way, products can be analyzed and adjusted based on a physical model.
- Pre-production and manufacturing. Manufacturing-oriented design serves so that both designers and engineers can see the appearance and functionality of the design, always taking into account the characteristics of the final product.
Advantages of rapid prototyping
The benefits of rapid prototyping are many for companies, whether they have in-house additive manufacturing teams or rely on trusted specialist manufacturers.
- Explore and materialize concepts quickly.
- Communicate ideas and concepts effectively.
- Evaluate and optimize designs instantly, with the ability to apply instant changes.
- Save a lot of time and money on tools and traditional prototyping material.
- Minimize design failures thanks to the possibility of unlimited testing.
Thus, 3D printing applied to rapid prototyping is a great tool to optimize products quickly and cheaply, from the moment of ideation and conceptualization to the last phases of manufacturing.