Applications for 3D printing have added up over the years, but none are more important than the first application that inspired 3D printing machines– rapid prototyping.  Rapid prototyping is loosely defined as using a manufacturing method to develop a model of a part quickly prior to deploying the full production parts.  In most cases, rapid prototyping uses additive manufacturing but rapid prototyping has never been exclusive to 3D printing.  In fact, in the 90s, rapid prototyping commonly included the high speed machining processes and CNC work.

However, in the present day, rapid prototyping is most used in references to additive manufacturing and 3D printing.  Both terms refer to using layers of material to build up into a part from 3D data.  This additive technique is compared against subtractive methods of making a part where material are taken away from a block or raw shape until the part is all that is left.  Because extractive techniques have inherent manufacturing limitations such as what types of shapes, hidden features and geometries, plus hard to reach spots where cutting tools may not easily reach, often the time frame and expenses of doing prototypes was skipped in favor of a “fingers crossed” 1st article of production as a proof prior to full scale up.

Unfortunately, “fingers crossed” often became  “pointing fingers” when problems were discovered after a physical part was produced.  In contrast, if rapid prototyping was used prior to production, the errors and guessing was eliminated.  3D printing offers a cost effective and fast method of getting a physical part produced plus the ability to do different versions prior to full production. Not only can designs be verified, the best possible design option can be selected.  The pre-production parts also offered teams members such as tooling and machine shop engineers, production engineers, supervisors and design professionals a part that they could see and hold that allowed them to come together and collaborate earlier in the design process.  All the aspects of planning could be accessed more easily ranging from design to how to gear up for production. With each team member holding and looking at the exact same part, this coloration tool resulted in time and cost savings plus generally less stress on all the members of the team.

One customer in aerospace for example noted rapid prototyping saved their facility over 6 months in retooling the very first time there was a change order, since the prototype could be used to plan assembly line tooling and fixtures prior to receiving a modified part.  One specific instance he used was drill guides for putting in brackets – by being able to have a prototype in hand with a modified screw pattern, he could quickly put the brackets from his suppliers into the line without the trial and error and headaches from retooling that he used to suffer through.

Nowadays, time savings and collaborations are even more widespread and accepted as part of the competitive nature of business.  Over 80% of all 3D printed parts are used as rapid prototypes.  Some figures estimate that as much as 90% of all parts are still “prototyping” parts used to approve and collaborate on design, fit and function prior to production.

With a history of over 30 years of rapid prototyping giving great results to users, now is the time to “go back to the future” and make your mark with 3D printing! Click Here to request more information.

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