While in the past, constructing models and prototypes required a great deal of time and money, rapid prototyping now offers the possibility of manufacturing high-quality objects by delegating much of the work to a computer and a device that carries out the construction of the object.
The manufacturing process
Artists, industrial designers, and engineers have quickly grasped the potential of 3D printing when it comes to manufacturing prototypes. This method, which also goes by the name “additive manufacturing,” involves designing an object using modelling software which then sends the instructions to a special printer. This device constructs the object – layer by layer, pixel by pixel – from a material that combines a clumping powder and a binding agent. The printer is able to create an object according to the desired format and reproduce extremely precise details.
If it’s necessary to work from a pre-existing object, this will have to be scanned with 3D sensors that will analyze the data and convert it into a 3D digital file. It will then be possible to recreate the object by applying the desired modifications to it in order to create the prototype.
Thermoforming, which is another object manufacturing technique, can also be used in prototype manufacturing, although it’s considered less cutting-edge and more traditional than 3D printing. As its name suggests, this practice uses heat to create an object. The device heats a sheet or plate, which is then placed in a mould. To create a prototype with thermoforming, you should therefore have access to a mould that has the exact shape and size you’re looking for, which can complicate the process.
What is the purpose of rapid prototyping ?
Before proceeding to the final stages in the project development process, being able to construct a model has many advantages. First of all, it lets you visualize the object in 3D in order to better evaluate various important aspects, including assembly, shape, ergonomics, size, design, and many more. The prototype stage is used to perform tests. Now that it’s possible to create these models in less time, the test period is simplified.
The use of prototypes is very widespread in several spheres, but here are some examples of fields where these models are particularly popular:
The advantages of rapid prototyping
The name of this method of prototype manufacturing couldn’t be clearer. Its primary objective is to enable the rapid construction of models. For the sake of quality, the models produced using this technique – whether it’s 3D printing or thermoforming – are also required to properly reproduce the details taken from the plan or object from which they were made. The cost of manufacturing prototypes is also reduced, offering companies and individuals the opportunity to take advantage of this technique to save money.
Since its emergence in the ’80s, rapid prototyping has continued to evolve, with increasingly powerful devices, to the point that certain items manufactured using these methods can be used as real objects, instead of just being models. To obtain high-quality prototypes, it’s therefore one of the best options available.