Rapid Prototyping With 3D Printing. How to improve your manufacturing process?
There is no doubt that technological advancement has greatly improved the aspect of product development. Rapid prototyping and 3D printing are just some of the results. Many people have embraced these two methods of product development.
So what is a Prototype? In an engineering product design context, a prototype is a preliminary version of the end product used to evaluate the design, test the technology, analyze the working principle, and provide final product specifications. Prototypes are an integral part of engineering product design and, more importantly, new product development.
On the other hand, Rapid Prototyping is the use of digital technologies to design and fabricate prototypes faster and easier. Rapid prototyping typically relies on 3D printing technologies to fabricate the prototypes quickly, as it circumvents the need to use a tool or die sets.
Beyond the physical fabrication of prototypes, rapid prototyping includes engineering activities like design, modification, and testing.
Rapid prototyping and 3D printing
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."
Today, the widespread term 'additive manufacturing' connotes a paradigm shift in 3D printing. The term typically describes 3D printing's use for high-value industrial applications, such as performance-critical end-use parts. Implicitly, the term speaks to 3D printing's departure from its early use limited to rapid prototyping.
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Benefits of rapid prototyping with 3D printing
Employing a 3D printing platform to enable rapid prototyping offers numerous benefits compared to prototyping through traditional methods:
- Shorter lead times
Rapid prototyping with 3D printing brings lead times down to anywhere from just hours to days.
Using traditional manufacturing methods, prototypes require new tooling, and/or additional processes like drafting drawings, submitting POs, and dealing with shipment times. Without in-house 3D printing, procuring each prototype can take weeks to months.
A 3D printer can precisely create your next iteration from a slightly tweaked design file much faster than could any traditional tooling-based prototyping process. Speeding the design cycle inherently improves the time-to-market for a new product.
- Cost efficiency
Rapid prototyping paired with 3D printing eliminated the requirement for expensive specialized labor, third-party vendor costs, or necessitate the use of a tool or die sets. Thus, getting a product to market faster and inherently reducing the hefty price of longer, more tooling-intensive traditional workflows.
- Same-platform prototyping and production
Using an industrial-scale 3D printer — as opposed to one limited to weaker prototyping materials — means product developers can prototype and build tooling or the final part with the same platform. This helps ensure a successful print job for the final part. Rather than making adjustments to accommodate the limitations of subtractive manufacturing, users can simply swap to a higher-performance material.
The impact of rapid prototyping
Centor, an award-winning manufacturer of industrial door systems, was able to bring their costs per prototype from $800 (through machining) down to just $10. The Digital Forge cut lead times from about one week down to just 12 hours.
Caldwell Manufacturing, a global window and door hardware manufacturer based in upstate New York, has produced parts that previously cost $500-$3,000 down to just $30. These parts came with lead times of up to eight weeks; with the Digital Forge, Caldwell fabricates them in-house in just three days.
Rapid prototyping and 3D printing work together hand-in-hand for better and faster engineering. By speeding up your 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.
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