You’ve been working on this idea for weeks – months even. You have drawing after drawing of what it should look like and even have some basic ideas laid out in some CAD files. What’s next? How do you turn these drawings and files into an actual physical product?
The answer is rapid prototyping. Rapid prototyping is essentially the “rough draft” of the manufacturing world. Using CAD data and all of your design information, a rough prototype is quickly fabricated in order to create the first physical version of your product.
The process dates back to the 80’s. It was around this time that decision makers started noticing trouble in the American tool manufacturing market. A pivot was going to be needed to keep pace with the advances being made in Europe and Asia. In response, a number of government agencies including NASA, the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, and others conducted studies to determine a course of action.
After a number of years, a set of processes known as solid freeform fabrication were developed. These processes would later be known as rapid prototyping.
The benefits of prototyping a single piece prior to manufacture are immeasurable. A lot of preparation goes into a manufacturing run. Materials must be procured, equipment must be set up, and work must be done to the most exacting standards. However, in a rapid prototyping situation, the work is done simply to provide a working model. In many cases, this is done through 3D printing or some other method of additive layer manufacturing. The piece is built line by line rather than being cut out of a piece of raw material.
As the technology advances, more and more is being done with rapid prototyping. This includes small manufacturing runs. Once the prototypes have been developed, tested, and approved, the same machines can be used to create small batches of the product. Because the manufacturing process is additive rather than subtractive, there is less waste and less use of raw materials. Under normal circumstances it is not cost effective to manufacture a small batch of parts. However, using rapid prototyping, small batches of product can be produced in an economical way that also provides the highest levels of quality and precision.
This is a fast moving and rapidly growing technology and is opening doors to manufacturing that were once closed to all but the largest shops. The use of computer aided graphics and design combined with the use of low cost, computer aided manufacturing means that a prototype of some products can be created in just hours.
Contact us here at Excello to discuss how our rapid prototyping technology and team can take your product off of the paper and drawings and put it into your hands.