In the past several years, however, the market has changed. Desktop and benchop technology have democratized additive manufacturing and inspired a groundswell of adoption that shows no sign of stopping.
Read on to learn more about the rapid prototyping process and explore real-world examples of companies that use in-house 3D printing to fabricate prototypes that look, feel, and function like final products.
What is Rapid Prototyping?
With 3D printing, CAD designs can be quickly fabricated into physical models without outsourcing to a machinist or technician, and with substantially lower material and equipment costs.
This has impacts across the product development process, from prototyping to production.
Using rapid prototyping designers can quickly cycle between designing, printing, cleaning, testing, and tweaking products, then confidently test using sample runs and continue to iterate during production.
Accelerated Design and Reduced Costs
Rapid prototyping eliminates the wait time of outsourcing. Engineers prototype in-house, and design for manufacturability from the start, saving time and costs by reducing the risks of potential errors in production.
A good model is a 24 hour design cycle: design during work, 3D print parts overnight, clean and test the next day, tweak the design, then repeat.
Prototypes That Match Final Parts
The wide range of 3D printing materials on the market today allows designers to simulate a range of injection-molded plastics, and test prototypes at every stage of development:
Looks-Like: Test design iterations and communicate ideas to stakeholders affordably and quickly.
Works-Like: Reliably develop proofs of concept and test functional prototypes with materials closely matching common injection-molded plastics.
Feels-Like: Simulate a range of materials from rubber to rigid, and create prototypes with the smooth finish and feel of end products.
The ability to create functional prototypes also helps engineers design for manufacturability, even in early stages.
Designing for manufacturability means fewer do-overs down the road between engineering and manufacturing, and when changes do need to be implemented, it will much more affordable and less disruptive to the line.
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Once a part is in production, prototyping doesn’t have to stop. Many companies design a jig or fixture, put it to production, and then never go back and redesign; using standard prototyping methods the time and engineering cost wouldn’t be worth the potential yield increase.
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