To understand what rapid prototyping is; you must first know what a prototype is. A prototype, also referred to a beta version or concept, is a simple or preliminary version of an object, device, or product. It is the basis on which the larger forms of the said products are subsequently developed.
Rapid prototyping is closely related to prototyping. It refers to a group of techniques and skills that are used to quickly fabricate scale models of physical parts or assembly using data that is derived from the three-dimensional computer-aided design (3D CAD).
THE NEEDS FOR RAPID PROTOTYPING
Risk Aversion – This perhaps is the most outstanding role that this technique plays. It is used to reduce the risks that may naturally arise in the production process and in the final product as a whole. This is mainly because this procedure allows manufacturers to see how the final outcome is generally going to turn out before commencing large-scale production of the said product. This, in turn, reduces the financial losses and other issues that may arise out of errors.
Product Testing – As stated, rapid prototyping grants the manufacturers the leeway to test the product they are due to release first and foremost before commencing the large-scale production thereof. This way, the manufacturers can predict the manner in which the product is likely to behave under various external circumstances. They are hence well able to make the necessary adjustments until the perfect final outcome is achieved.
Feedbacks and Suggestions – Apart from merely predicting the possible behaviors of the products under varying external circumstances, rapid prototyping also allows manufacturers to seek the feedback, views, and opinions of the would-be users. They thereafter incorporate these feedbacks, views, and suggestions in their final design and output. This way, they prevent the likelihood of there being a mismatch between the final product and the expectations of the customers who eventually purchase their items.
Gauging the Product Usability – It is one thing to manufacture a product. It is yet another issue altogether to let the product discharge its requires mandate or role. To see to it that the product achieves its desired outcome, the rapid prototyping comes in handy. The manufacturers may use it to gauge the likelihood that the product actually performs its intended function. In case any issues arise at this stage, the manufacturers will often alter the design appropriately.
Ascertain the Product’s Relevance – Apart from merely discharging its mandate, the product also must be as relevant to every other aspect of a user as possible. This pertains the environmental as well as the social conditions in which the product might be used. Rapid prototyping enables the manufacturers to ascertain this relevance as well. This way, it sees to it that the final product does not in any way clash with the overall circumstances or expectations of the users.
THE BASICS OF RAPID PROTOTYPING
The typical rapid prototyping undertaking goes through the following major cycles or steps:
3D Scale Modeling – At this first stage, the computer generates a scale modeling of the item to be manufactured. It displays the results of the model in the third dimension. This enables the designer and the manufacturer to obtain an accurate picture of how the end product is likely to look like. It also grants the designers the opportunity to make any alterations that may be necessary.
Data Preparation – In this second stage, the relevant data regarding the designed item is generated. The data is thereafter prepared for the subsequent stages. This data contains the dimensions of the product, the speed with which the product may be mass produced, and the tiny details of the item in question.
Part Building – At this stage, the data is transmitted to a 3D printing machine. The machine receives the instructions and translates those instructions into a final product that resembles the design as nearly as can be. The constituent parts and components are joined together in a process called the additive layer manufacturing.
Redesign – In case any errors or inconsistencies are identified at this stage, they are highlighted and sent back to the designers for improvements and further alterations. The designer corrects those errors and transmits the same to the 3D printing machine. The final object is thereafter generated.
RAPID PROTOTYPING PROCESSES AND TECHNIQUES
Stereolithography (SLA) – This technique employs the photopolymer as the base material on which is imprints the final outcome. It is basically used to ascertain the parameters of the desired object. These include such aspects as the fit, the form, or the function of the prototype.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) – Selective laser sintering also employs additive fabrication process in making a working prototype. It, however, fuses the particles of plastics, ceramic powders, and metal to create the final product. It is slower compared to the stereolithography technique above but is generally cheaper.
Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM) – Unlike the two other techniques above, this one employs paper as the base material. It also uses the additive fabrication process to generate the desired final outcomes. Its dimensional accuracy is slightly less than those of the other techniques, but it is extremely affordable nonetheless.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) – Widely used within the field of engineering, this technique also employs the additive process manufacturing technique. It can utilize several kinds of base materials such as waxes, polycarbonates, and water-soluble materials. The prototypes generated by this technique possess fewer details but are pretty resistant to heat. They are mainly used to test the functionality of objects.
Electron Beam Melting (EBM) – This technique is exclusively used for metallic parts and components. It entails melting the powder one layer at a time by use of an electronic beam. This results in extremely strong and solid outcomes. They also have high levels of precision and require no extra treatments. The technique also gives rise to superior finishing.
APPLICATIONS OF RAPID PROTOTYPING
Manufacturing – As already hinted out, the manufacturing sector employs this technique extensively. It uses the technique to generate prototypes, test products, gauge the usability of the said products, and invite feedback and suggestions from the likely users of the items before rolling out their mass productions.
Architecture – In architecture, rapid prototyping enables the architect or the designer to visualize the design space in the third dimension. It also enables him to repeat several design processes and procedures until the desired final outcome is attained. Moreover, it also grants the designers the leeway to partition or section the entire building well in advance before the commencement of the construction process. This avoids any errors or clashes later.
Biomedical Applications – This technique can be harnessed to perform a range of tasks in the field of biomedicine. It may be used to carry out customized surgical implants on patients who have lost their legs due to injuries. The technique may also be used to manufacture mechanical bone replicas. These are fixed onto the limbs to substitute the legs that have been amputated due to extreme injuries. The 3D visualization, manufacture of prosthetic parts, and surgical planning are other areas of possible applications.
Fashion and Jewelry – It also gains wide applicability in the fashion industry. It is used to design shoes, create patterns on jewelry, carry out castings, and generate decorations of whichever kinds. The technique enables a fair degree of precision that is almost unattainable by the use of hands or other crude manufacturing techniques.
Sculptures – Making sculptures is a very delicate undertaking. This is mainly due to the need to uphold very precise measurements and patterns. The materials that are sculptured are also generally weak and sensitive to damages. This technique enables you to handle and work on such delicate materials without the risk of damage or missing of targets.
Rapid prototyping is a very ingenious production technique. Serious manufacturers, architects, or product designers take advantage of this useful and cost-effective technique. Rapid Prototyping is loaded with plenty of benefits which greatly facilitate the execution of most industrial tasks and processes. As such, it is in the best interest of any workshop owner or manufacturer to familiarize himself with it and incorporate it as a core component of his managerial best practice.