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The Benefits of rapid prototyping in engineering

Prototyping is at the heart of every engineering process regardless of the specialty. The words “rapid” and “prototyping” sound to determine the ability of prototyping at a faster pace. With this in mind, let’s have a closer look at what rapid prototyping means.

What is Rapid prototyping?

Rapid prototyping, roughly speaking can be defined as the action of manufacturing prototypes at speed for purposes such as:

  • Functional performance check

  • Visual trials

  • Ergonomic trial

Rapid prototypes on an industrial level are mainly obtained using fast form of replicating or control machining. One can argue the differences between rapid prototyping, additive manufacturing and 3D printing.

Differences between rapid prototyping, additive manufacturing and 3D printing.

In other words, rapid prototyping can be thought of as the technique of creating a model from a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file. As of additive manufacturing and 3D printing, they are the process whereas rapid prototyping can be considered the result.

It is important to realise that being able to check your assumption using fast of rapid prototyping is a key factor to executing on ideas with efficiency. Taking for instance, a belt that has not been lasting and the existence of the need to find the right material and the right gearing system to approach such an issue, the fastest we can implement ideas and test will highly effect the speed at which we will come out with a sound solution.

These could along the process help in A/B testing.

To put it differently considering the medical industry on the case of building a bio limb, Rapid prototyping will come in handy to help find the right size, material and ergonomic design quicker than it used to be.

Benefits of rapid prototyping in engineering

Without any doubt that adopting this technique could be one of the most profitable decision a manufacturing company or any other type of company involved in prototyping, here are some of the benefits of it.

Cost and time saving

Rapid prototyping can drastically help save cost and time. It is well known that such a method allows to eliminate the need of patterns, special tools or moulds while manufacturing a technical component. All that might me needed are the CAD file/software and the printing equipment, and you can generate the model an uncountable number of time with a relatively fast pace while changing the geometry of the printed model. Compared to technique like CNC machining, rapid prototyping only uses the material necessary to create the component eliminating waste.

Design customization

One of the most outstanding benefit of rapid prototyping is the ability to develop customized design as per individual requirement. Making some slight or major modification on the CAD model will still result to the same procedure in bringing the object to life. This is game changing specially for the fact that for manufacturing company, it helps customize to individual client satisfaction.

Abilities to incorporate changes instantly

The feedback loop between testing a design and designing is being minimized. Most time, having the physical design at hand helps have a better feel of it, which is sometime a bit far from expectation. Rapid prototyping allows to instantly change the design when need arises.

While iterating the process of design-testing, the design is bound to improve in quality consequently helping boost the confidence of both the customer and the design team. The whole process could help build a data base of the most commonly used design and help understand the market better furthermore allowing to grasp the current need of the market.

Reducing design glitch

Having the ability to prototype a product a single item at a time and iterating at the fast speed will drastically help detect glitch on a design before sending it to mass production. This also will help perform physical test easily before validation. Faults and usability issues can thus be detected earlier to escape from problem that might arise later during mass manufacturing process.

Technique of rapid prototyping

As stated earlier, rapid prototyping is the end-result whereas technique used are others such as the following: 3D printing, Stereolithographic, ballistic particle manufacturing, direct light fabrication, direct shell production casting, fused deposited modeling, laminated object manufacturing, solid ground curing, Agile software development.

By far the most popular technique is 3D printing which is the use of computer controlled techniques to build an object one layer of material at a time. A 3D printer can print objects of almost any shape and geometry. A CAD file is enough to generate a model using a 3D printer making it a quite affordable means for rapid prototyping.

The process of rapid manufacturing using 3D printing can be resumed in 3 steps: Modeling, printing and finishing.

Modeling can be done in several ways, such as

  • CAD design

  • 3D scanners

Although not often required, the finishing process can be used to improve the resolution of the printed object using higher-resolution subtractive process.

Stereolithography is also part of the addictive manufacturing process. It functions by focusing an ultraviolet laser on to a basin of photopolymer resin.

The aforementioned techniques are the current popular ones and it would not a surprise if the list become more extensive as tech is evolving.

Final thought

Fast prototyping has been a top-notch technology helping in the advancement of engineering and technology at an improved rate. It is helping not only to cut cost and time but more importantly provide abilities that would not be possible if not because of it. Building a custom model nowadays has become less tedious and the resolutions of technique like 3D printing are being improved on the fly.

Manufacturing has become more affordable, especially for small size object and testing has become a way more accessible that it used to. Rapid prototyping opens a whole new word of opportunity where digital capital is put in the hand of common users making creativity be the only barrier to innovation. With Rapid prototyping, small companies can now catch up and close the gap in manufacturing.

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