3D Printing and Prototyping
Aspects pertaining to rapid prototyping and 3d printing are covered here.
Rapid prototyping, or 3D prototyping reaches beyond 3D printing.
It is an iterative design process by manufacturing physical prototypes.
Making small changes is crucial at each step to improve it.
Conventional injection molding requires weeks/months to reproduce each iteration.
In addition, the extra expense compared to other methods like 3D printing or laser cutting.
Rapid prototyping is relatively quick using a variety of materials with differing properties, such as PLA, impact-resistant ABS, durable nylon, and more.
Thus, rapid prototyping commences with multiple distinct technologies, each with different use cases.
Rapid prototyping employs CAD design software and manufacturing processes to create a prototype set.
Each physical prototype requires outsourced new designs towards a manufacturer.
Hence, it complements subtractive processes (e.g., mill, cut) or molds and casts.
That may require lengthy waits and costs, as tooling and logistics come into play every time.
3D printing negates tooling and can take your idea straight from design file to the physical.
This shortens wait times, as feedback can translate immediately to an updated design file.
Thus it 3d prints in a few hours.
With in-house 3d printing, several cycles of prototyping occurs in the same day.
This is an advance on conventional monthly iterations.
This case example features geometries including tapering, trapezoid features, screw holes and symmetry. Additionally rectangular outlays and hollow sections is typical of most cover designs.
This gear box in particular is for a major automobile where parts nowadays is rare.
The 3d printed Carbon Black composite plastic cover transforms to a smooth finish by the client.
3D Printing vs Rapid Prototyping
When the technology was first developed, 3D printing was so synonymous with rapid prototyping that the two terms were interchangeable.
Whether referencing “3D printing,” “rapid prototyping,” or “RP,” the conversation generally all referred to the same thing.
Today, 3D printing has developed into end-use production capabilities as well and is more commonly synonymous with “additive manufacturing.”
Still, rapid prototyping was the first and remains the largest application for 3D printing.
Iterations from proof-of-concept through to functional prototype loads onto a 3D printer.
Using 3D printers speeds up the rapid prototyping significantly through removing traditional bottlenecks in tooling and/or shipping.
Rapid prototyping uses the same 3D printing software (if not identical) for the final product.
Benefits of Rapid Prototyping
Generally, rapid prototyping carries the significant benefits of speeding time-to-market.
Also, it offers more opportunities to test and improve each iteration as a cost-competitive process.
Hence, it improves the effectiveness of communication throughout the design cycle.
Decrease Time to Market
The time it takes an idea to move from concept to deliverable should be as short as possible.
Replacing months or years of traditional wait times in the iterative prototyping process is a quick win for rapid prototyping.
3D printer create your exact next iteration from a tweaked design file generally faster than traditional tooling-based prototyping process.
Speeding the design cycle inherently improves time-to-market for a new product.
Test and Improve
Each 3D printed prototype will be one step better than the version before it, ideally.
Getting hands-on with a life-sized functional prototype can allow you fuller understanding of that particular design’s pros and cons.
Also, the process enables fast approval or disapproval as it paces in testing.
Performance and a feel for the look and feel of each prototype, understanding, evaluating, and improving any manufacturability issues while in pre-production stages.
Create Competitive and Cost-Efficient Models
Hand-in-hand with speeding time-to-market is the reduction of costs with lengthy design cycles.
Getting a product to market faster will inherently reduce the hefty price of longer, more tooling-intensive traditional workflows.
Competitive positioning requires that development and introduction be quick, especially in the consumer market.
Large-format 3D printing also allows for several different prototypes to be made at the same time, allowing for faster decision making when the choice is between a few looks or feels.
Improve Effective Communication
The fast turnaround of rapid prototyping eases communication gaps by opening up the conversation.
It’s much easier if every engineer on your team has the same understanding of a process, and quickly getting a next physical prototype in hand offers a clear point of reference.
As each prototype becomes closer to the feel and performance of the final design, small tweaks and large adjustments both become easier to understand for your entire team.
Applying Rapid Prototyping – Conceptual
The earliest prototypes are often conceptual. Proof-of-concept prototypes serve as physical validation of the ideas that may have emerged as a sketch on a napkin. Taking an idea into the three-dimensional real world is the best way to prove viability. Getting hands-on with a concept model can help your engineering team understand their next steps at the same time as it may encourage management to simply move forward with a project.
These early prototypes are often the roughest, as they are the lowest-risk representations made in the rapid prototyping cycle. These prototypes are made quickly and generally in different materials and colors than later-stage prototypes, much less final designs.
Aesthetic or Industrial Design Prototypes
Once a design is validated in its roughest form, it moves next into an aesthetic or industrial design step. The next prototypes hone in on how the design should look and feel, with the thought process beginning to turn toward usability and functionality.
This occurs without the part necessarily being fully functional quite yet.
To ensure a new part will fit into a greater whole, or a new product will fit with your brand’s existing aesthetic or functional line, these prototypes more accurately look like something that is moving toward a final design.
These prototypes also enable engineers to consider how exactly to best manufacture the eventual final design.
Especially when working with life-sized, larger designs like furniture, having life-sized prototypes to fit to spaces and users becomes ever more important as designs move through the prototyping cycle.
Large-scale 3D printing can bring these large-scale designs to life, allowing for a full iteration to be made and tested in less than the time it would take for a traditional tool to be made.
Furniture maker Steelcase experienced this benefit first-hand as they use their large-format BigRep 3D printer to create new furniture designs.
A functional prototype does just that: it functions.
These later-stage prototypes are often made of materials similar to what will be used in a final product, to validate that everything will work as intended.
Engineers at this stage pay attention to performance: does it fit, does it function, do load-bearing parts bear loads?
Careful planning as to how the final part is manufactured (especially if this will be done in a different process than the prototype.
For example, 3D printing a prototype for a part that will ultimately be injection molded) as well as how the final part will be post-processed/finished.
Test Serial Production
Many products bound for the mass market aligns with mass production.
This may also imply in a different manufacturing process.
Sometimes 3D printing is not the right technology as in cases of mass customization.
Prototyping considers the use of the eventual manufacturing process.
Also, later-stage prototypes use the same materials and fit into the appropriate manufacturing parameters as the final parts will be.
Consideration for traditional production processes comes more into play here.
For example for tooling, jigs and fixtures, or any other necessary implements.
Design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) may move toward traditional design for manufacturing (DFM) thinking.
Model Prototype Presentations
The final look is the final stage in prototyping, the last step before full production begins.
At this stage, a prototype should not only feel and operate like the final product, but needs to look like it, too.
This prototype fits the use of marketing materials while production ramps up.
It further convinces investors of final viability and feasibility, for final field testing, or for any other demonstration or presentation needs.
The goal of rapid prototyping is to reach this stage faster than ever before using conventional prototyping workflows.
Rapid prototyping and 3D printing work together hand-in-hand for better and faster engineering.
By speeding up you workflows and removing bottlenecks and other pain points of traditionally drawn-out prototyping cycles,
3D printing enables a new solution for a faster time to market.
Better-tested, cost-efficient rapid prototyping is a win for your engineering team.