Rapid Prototyping, or Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM), is the basic production of a model using a computer-aided design. Through additive and subtractive fabrication, animation modeling software creates a physical model that closely corresponds with the visual model. The process is accurate and fast, with most machines producing a given model in just a few hours. Because the resulting prototype can be used to check visual components of the design and to verify interactions with other prototypes, it is proportionately accurate. Due to the wide array of models and production needs, there is also a variety of Rapid Prototyping Services.
Stereolithography: Quick and affordable, stereolithography (SLA) uses a photopolymer as its base material and is an easy way to create a model both highly accurate and with good surface finish. SLA uses an additive fabrication process where a laser beam traces the original design on liquid polymer, hardening the beam. Upon formation of the first layer, the subsequent layers are created in the same manner, adhering to the preceding layer. This type of rapid prototyping is useful for checking the fit, form, and function of the prototype.
Selective Laser Sintering: Much like SLA, selective laser sintering (SLS) uses an additive fabrication process to create a prototype. However, SLS actually fuses particles of plastic, metal, or ceramic powders together. The resulting prototype is generally cheaper than an SLA prototype, but takes two to three times longer to build.
Fused Deposition Modeling: Also known as FDM, this method generates a prototype using an additive fabrication process and is especially used within engineering design. FDM technology can be used with a variety of materials, such as polycarbonates and waxes, as well as a water-soluble material. FDM prototypes lack the detail of SLA models, but are highly heat-resistant and useful for functional testing.
Laminated Object Manufacturing: Like SLA, SLS, and FDM, Laminated Object Fabrication (LOM) uses an additive fabrication process, but with paper as its base material instead of photopolymer. The process highly resembles SLA production and the resulting paper model consists of multiple layers that may be treated and manipulated in the same manner as wood. The process is inexpensive due to readily available material, though the dimensional accuracy is slightly less than that of an SLA generated prototype.
Electron Beam Melting: Specifically used for metal parts, Electron Beam Melting (EBM) involves melting powder, a layer at a time, with an electron beam. The resulting components are solid and extremely strong, and can be made with a high level of precision. EBM does not require additional heat treatment after generation, which gives it a slight edge over SLS manufacturing, and also provides superior surface finish when compared to other manufacturing methods. However, because EBM takes place in a vacuum, it operates within a limited amount of space, which in turn limits the size of the component.
3D Printing: A subset of SLA, 3D printing depends on layering and connecting different cross-sections in order to offer a speedy and affordable alternative to more expensive types of model fabrication. This method is ideal for early stages of product design, when visualization is key and structural integrity is less important, because the resulting components tend to be weaker than other fabrication methods’ results.
Advantages of Rapid Prototyping Services
Rapid Prototyping Services are an effective and often inexpensive way to reduce risk and error in the final production process in products such as solid wood furniture, auto parts and aircraft parts. Prototypes not only provide a user with an idea of how the final product will look, but can also be used to test the functionality of other prototypes. Generation of prototypes is usually quite fast, and enabling feedback that may affect the original design.