Rapid prototyping is a key component to successful product development, as it gives designers and engineers the advantage to modify their designs during the development stage until it is considered perfect and ready for production. Product development has come a long way since its original roots and parts that used to take days or weeks to be made can now be made in just a few hours. This is already creating a change in the economics of how products are produced – across all industries. Some examples of industries that have embraced the benefits of rapid prototyping include: consumer products, electronics, medical, automotive, transportation, and many more.
As new products have to meet high expectations in today’s world, it gives designers and engineers less time to iterate their designs. They have to be prototyped quickly to beat competitors to market and choosing the right prototyping process at an early stage in the product development cycle holds the key to a successful product launch. Although prototypes are produced in small numbers, they can be produced using additive manufacturing, CNC rapid prototyping, or vacuum casting depending upon its application, materials, and finishing requirements.
Additive manufacturing, or popularly known today as 3D printing, has limited use in development of a product. If larger quantities and parts identical to final production parts are needed, the method of prototype development can shift from urethane casting and CNC machining to prototype tooling. Moving from prototypes built by stereolithography to few hundreds of CNC machined parts into high volume injection molded parts, serves as a good product development example. Although design considerations and materials selection may not be critical during the development of early prototypes when using custom 3D printing, once a decision has been made to move into high volume downstream manufacturing processes like injection molding, these factors become much more crucial.
The breadth of product applications is growing constantly. There is no preferred solution. In some cases, you may need a high quality visual model and in some cases you may need high volume production runs. The greatest challenge is to find the best rapid prototyping solution to fit the needs of your project. While determining the best solution to your project, it is important to take into consideration:
- Speed, and