rapid prototyping

The world is moving at a very fast pace and with the changes in manufacturing techniques and processes, it’s easy to get blindsided. This brief guide to Rapid Prototyping will help you stay in the loop.

The year is 2020 and many industries, countries and fields of endeavor are experiencing changes that are occurring at a dizzying pace. It’s almost a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of situation where every few years, the systems and processes through which work used to get done change to an almost unrecognizable form. Rapid Prototyping is one of the new advancements that have occurred as a result of these evolutions and on this article, I am going to show you a few things you should know about Rapid Prototyping and Rapid Prototyping services so that you do not get left behind.

First of all, what is rapid prototyping? By definition, Rapid prototyping is the quick fabrication of a physical part or component using 3D CAD (Computer Aided Design). Rapid prototyping  is the design process where a mock-up of the future state of a system, be it software or hardware, is created and validated alongside a broader team of users, stakeholders, developers and designers.

RP or rapid prototyping has some clear advantages, not least is the fact that it helps in giving a more robust picture of how a product will perform as well as look in the early stages of the fabrication and manufacturing cycle. This allows for changes and improvements to be implemented alongside.

Usually, additive manufacturing (commonly known as 3D printing), is employed in this process. Two important terms to take note of are “high fidelity” and “low fidelity” prototypes. The former is the case when the design closely matches the finished product and the latter is the case where there are noticeable differences between prototype and final product.

Some of the different types of rapid prototyping techniques include: Stereolithography (SLA) or Vat Photopolymerization, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) or Material Jetting, Selective Laser Melting (SLM) or Powder Bed Fusion, Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM) or Sheet Lamination, Digital Light Processing (DLP), and Binder Jetting to mention a few.

Now that we have the definition and meaning of rapid prototyping out of the way, I am going to show you a few tips on how to learn more about the practice as well as how to get better at it. Some novel communities have been created by industry veterans to help those starting out gain a functional understanding of the skill as well as all the other requisite information inherent to RP.

New developments in RP have made it so that almost anybody can produce parts and prototypes on the cheap. The “Fab Labs” (fabrication laboratories) that  were established by Neil Gershenfeld of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in universities, colleges, housing projects, and mobile labs had the goal of giving ordinary people manufacturing and prototyping capabilities not otherwise readily available by providing free access to tools such as 3D CAD, laser cutters, and desktop milling machines.

Ted Hall, founder of ShopBotTools says they have partnered with another firm to create multiple online fabrication communities that take nontraditional approach to selling designs. According to Hall, “Basically, anyone can upload their designs and find local fabbers to make them. Users can also buy other people’s online designs. The other firm, Ponoko, Wellington, New Zealand, also has products that reside as design files on a server, ready to be manufactured (laser cut), on demand. In providing a mechanism to connect small, global cells of fabber “garages,” these and similar firms are sometimes referred to as the “Facebook of manufacturing.”

According to hall as well, “Designers are encouraged to post stuff free under a Creative Commons license which lets people use a design but not turn around and sell it,” says Hall. “At this point, we don’t know which way things are going to go, so we are trying to encourage everything. To this end, the 100kGarage site has just added free parametric files, for instance. These let users download the file of a 2 × 4-ft object, say, change the variables, and the object automatically becomes 3 × 5 ft. We are also talking about integrating capabilities from the free version of Alibre parametric modeling CAD software.”

Whether a complete novice or someone that has been in the RP game for a short while, here are a few tips that are sure to benefit you in the long run:

  • Be ready to go through as many errors and retry phases before you hit the final product. Even Thomas Edison failed a whole number of times before he came up with the light bulb.
  • Make sure to always gain a better understanding of your clients’ specifications and needs. Get feedback and drive your iteration efforts based on these.
  • Make sure to always consider the utility factor when it comes to your projects both to the client and to the end user to which the client intends to sell.
  • Always ensure employee welfare as happy employees produce the best work.
  • Ensure that there is close proximity to vendors and suppliers in order for reduced overhead costs.
  • Ensure to train and retrain your employees for maximum performance.
  • Have an eye for acting on feedback. Remember, customer specifications are very fickle and as such, you should remain prepared to act on feedback as and when required

The world is a fast-paced place that keeps spinning (not only literally). Things change within the literal blink of an eye and as a businessman, manufacturer of just anyone that makes things to sell to people, you need to keep In touch with the times so that you do not get swept in the wave of obsolescence. RP is the new wave and if you haven’t already, you should join the band wagon and invest in either creating your own Rapid Prototyping division, or putting a Rapid Prototyping service on retainer.

Prototyping stock photo by 300 librarians/Shutterstock