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3D Printing for Rapid Prototyping

3D Printing for Rapid Prototyping

Product designers and engineers have been using prototypes forever. A prototype helps give the product designers perfect a new design before mass production. A digital prototype is a good place to start, but it’s much different to hold the parts and see the entire assembly.

Prototypes are often used is the automotive, medical, aerospace industries, and in consumer goods. The purpose of rapid prototyping is to go from a digital design to a physical part or assembly as quickly and efficiently as possible.

In the past 10 years, 3D printing has helped create prototypes easier, faster, and with much greater accuracy. Spex has recently started using our in-house 3D printer to create prototype parts for our customers. In this post, we’ll share more about the benefits of 3D printing prototype parts.

What is rapid prototyping?

Rapid prototyping is one of the important steps in the manufacturing process. This is the step when the part goes from a computer design to physical part.

Rapid prototyping is a sped up fabrication of the part while maintaining accuracy.

Where the prototype design is a close match the proposed finished product, it’s called a high fidelity prototype. A low fidelity prototype has marked difference between the prototype and the final product.

While manufacturing precision parts, maintaining accuracy is highly important. The final products often need to be held within tight tolerances, within factions of a millimeter. If the prototype part isn’t accurate, it’s not as helpful to the product designers.

Applications of rapid prototyping

Rapid prototyping with 3D printers supports designers and engineers throughout product development, from concept to initial testing, development, and final part production.

Proof-of-concept (POC)

Proof-of-concept is a low-risk way to validate an idea. The POC helps designers run through physical tests for a new part and product. A physical prototype can also help other team members and potential investors validate or improve the concept.

Functional prototypes

A functional prototype allows engineers and product developers verify an idea. High fidelity prototyping accurately represents the final product. This makes it easier to verify the design, fit, function of the parts and components.

How are rapid prototypes made?

There are various manufacturing processes used to create prototypes. One of the most common processes is 3D printing. This is an additive manufacturing process, unlike a subtractive process such as CNC machining.

3D printers can take a CAD file and quickly create a detailed plastic part. Most 3D printers use nylon, ABS, or resin. This enables a high fidelity prototype to be made at a low cost. These parts can then be tested in a real world environment.

In some cases, other manufacturing processes are used to create prototypes. Processes like traditional machining or casting parts can be used for prototypes. These tend to be slower and more expensive compared to 3D printing, but they can offer more detailed and more accurate prototypes.

The manufacturing process depends on what the prototype part will be used for and the design specifications.

The primary goal of rapid prototyping technology is to create a functional prototype that can be used to ensure it will function as designed. Functional prototypes can be used for product testing and measure the effectiveness of assemblies and a new product.

Benefits of 3D printers

Compared to CNC machines, 3D printing is still a newer technology. In recent years, the popularity and usefulness of 3D printers has significantly increased. You can buy a 3D printer for a few hundred dollars and print out whatever you want at home.

3D printing is also being used more in manufacturing industries. 3D printing is still limited in certain aspects. For example, 3D printers aren’t good for mass producing parts, or printing metal parts. They’re also not able to match the tight tolerances that CNC machining can reach.

The benefits are significant, and they should be used as much as possible. 3D printers are much faster and easier to setup, which is very helpful during the prototyping cycle. More conventional machines can take 20+ man hours to setup, and make it more difficult to make small part changes.

Currently, 3D printing is the best way to create a cost effective physical prototype. This can help speed up manufacturing workflows and get the final product to market faster. The raw materials for 3D printing is significantly cheaper than CNC machining or milling. This further helps save money during the prototyping process.

3D printing is a great technology that has many benefits during the start of the manufacturing process. The ability to produce quality plastic components helps test and verify the capabilities of new parts.

After a successful rapid prototyping final design, Spex uses different machining methods to manufacture high quantities of parts. Reach out to our team to learn more about our precision manufacturing expertise. We can help bring your next project from idea to full-scale production, and provide the best supply chain management solutions.

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