RAPID PROTOTYPING

January 25, 2011


RAPID PROTOTYPING

Being able to obtain prototype parts quickly to test for component form, fit and function can help get your product to market much faster than your competition.   This can allow for adjustments in design, materials, size, shape, assembly, color and manufacturability of individual components and subassemblies.   Rapid prototyping is one tool that allows this to happen.   It also is a valuable tool for sales and marketing evaluation at the earliest stages of any program.   Generally, an engineering scope study is initially performed in which all elements of the development program are evaluated.  Having the ability to obtain parts “up front” is a valuable advantage available to companies and definitely can complement the decision making process.   Several rapid prototyping processes are available for today’s product design teams while other prototyping processes utilize traditional manufacturing methods, such as 1.)  CNC Machining, 2.)  Laser Cutting,3.)  Water Jet Cutting, 4.) EDN Machining, etc.   Rapid prototyping technologies emerged in the ‘80s and have been improved upon over a relatively short period of time.   When I started my career as a young engineer (we are talking about the dark ages) the only process available to us was as follows:

  • Produce an orthogonal drawing of the component
  • Take that drawing to the model shop so the first prototype can be made
  • Wait one, two, three, four, etc weeks for your first part so the evaluation process can occur
  •  Apply the component and evaluate form, fit and function
  • Alter the drawing(s) to reflect needed changes
  • Resubmit the drawing to the model shop for the first iteration of the design.  ( NOTE:  This creates a REV. 1  drawing .)
  • Again, apply the component for evaluation.

 

The entire process could take months to complete.  Things have changed considerably.  As prototyping processes continue to evolve, the product designer is constantly trying to determine what technology is best for unique application.  There are several viable options for rapid prototyping as follows:

  • (SLA) Stereolithography
  • (SLS) Selective Laser Sintering
  • (FDM) Fused Deposition Modeling
  • (3DP) Three Dimensional Printing
  • (Pjet) Poly-Jet
  • (RIM) Rapid Injection Molding

 

In addition to these options, there is a variety of materials available to facilitate assembly and trial after completion of the model. The entire process starts as follows:

  • Create a 3-D model of the component in a CAD program
  • Appropriate software then “chops” your CAD model into thin layers—typically 5 to 10 layers per MM.
  • The 3-D printer “paints” one of the layers exposing the material in the tank and hardening it.
  • The platform drops down a fraction of a MM and the process is repeated.  This is done layer by layer until the entire model is produced.
  • Next, heat treating and firing may occur to further harden the part

 The entire process may take as long as 72 hours, depending upon size and the complexity of the part but the results are remarkably usable and applications are abundant.  Some of the applications are as follows:

  • Dental Prototypes
  • Orthopedic Prototypes
  • Prototypes for sculptures
  • Prototypes for manufactured components
  • Items used to decorate sets for plays, operas, etc
  • Forensic investigations
  • Planning for surgical procedures

In addition to speed, very fine and intricate surface finishes can be had depending upon the material and process used to create the part.    In short, rapid prototyping is definitely an extremely viable option when needing components quickly and with great quality.  There are many vendors available when need arise and all will be more than happy to work with an engineer or manager to create produce the needed component or part.  I can definitely recommend you take a look at this exciting technology.

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37 Responses to “RAPID PROTOTYPING”


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