Rapid prototyping has gone a long way since its introduction in the 1980s. It changed the landscape of product development, tooling and manufacturing. Product designs are no longer challenging and concepts can be given life and realization through the use of a computer and an advanced type of printer that creates a three-dimensional output. Rapid prototyping has allowed manufacturers and businesses to create three-dimensional models of a part or product. Not only that, as the technology of rapid prototyping developed, it also allowed the testing of device parts or product designs before they are manufactured in large quantities. Designers and developers have made great strides in making prototypes through the many technologies included in rapid prototyping.
The initial motivation behind the development of rapid prototyping was to support product development by speeding up the process of developing rough prototypes of new products and components in a cost-effective way. Innovative product designs undergo several iterations, and this process can effectively handle the demands of multiple iterations. This technology gives manufacturers, large companies and businesses the edge in innovation. We will explore how rapid prototyping can help change the future of innovation.
Rapid prototyping in Biomedical applications
The versatility of rapid prototyping (RP) has allowed it to gain usage and importance in different fields aside from manufacturing. Research on the use of rapid prototyping to make objects and instruments for medical and dental applications such as implants, Biosensors and external prostheses has been ongoing since the last 3 decades. As the technology that drives rapid prototyping has evolved over time, so did its potential in the field of medicine. Initially, the applications were limited to, medical he instruments, sensors and devices. Now, the RP is being used for more complex applications such as artificial tissues, organs, bones and nanostructured biomaterials, which are used for more focused and precise drug delivery applications. Also, RP has vastly improved the technology behind the creation of realistic, three-dimensional models of human body parts, organs and the entire human body. These make the study of human anatomy and diseases much more convenient and effective. Also, the development of medical innovations and improvements in drug delivery can become possible with the advent of realistic human body, which further speeds up the process of drug development.
Rapid prototyping in rapid tooling
In the field of tool production, RP methods have greatly increased innovation and improvement of tools through the creation of prototype tools, inserts and tool components. The RP technique of vacuum casting, which creates silicone or polyurethane molds is very helpful in creating prototypes or product improvement tests. There are tools that have complex parts and expensive components, which make tests and prototyping processes costly and restrictive. With the flexibility and accuracy of RP and vacuum casting, designers and engineers of different tools can now replicate how parts actually look like and also simulate the functions of these tools after they have been created from molding. Using an alternative cheap material can help in generating great ideas for developing or improving tools. Iterations or repetition of key production and design processes is essential in making prototypes achieve final design form and function. Since the material used for prototyping is an alternative one and also more affordable, making several iterations until the most efficient and suitable is achieved and ready for mass production. Plastic or aluminum molds can actually be useful for startup production of low volume and on-demand tools. Instead of starting an expensive investment on injection molding machines, you can significantly cut production costs if you use vacuum casting machines instead.
Rapid prototyping in textile and fashion industry innovation
The textile and garment industry is getting its much-needed boost when it comes to innovation with the help of RP. Utilizing the technology of stereolithography (SLA), which is a form of 3D printing technology that converts liquid plastics into solid three-dimensional objects, the creation of garments, clothing and ready-to-wear items is revolutionized by RP. Designers and shoe creators have taken this innovative step to skip the use of attaching shoe parts and creating these parts individually. By taking the average dimensions and sizes of the human feet, a 3-D generated shoe made of thermoplastic polymer was materialized as a revolutionary prototype for a shoe that comfortably fits different foot sizes and dimensions.
Also, other fashion and luxury goods as bags, fashion dresses and athletic gears have adopted the rapid prototyping technology of SLA to make custom designs that fit the curves and shapes of our body. This is a welcome development, especially for manufacturers, designers and makers of dresses and other garments as the process significantly reduces the production time, the raw materials and the corresponding costs involved in making garments, such as transportation and packing costs. Small and medium garment enterprises and industries can benefit using this innovation by providing revolutionary wearable items that give customized and comfortable fit. Imagine a shoe that fits the curves and arches of the feet and soles that leaves a feeling of being close to barefoot in terms of comfort and freedom of movement. Bags that are custom-made for aesthetic and practical purposes can also use RP technology for making molds and trendy designs. Material wise, polyurethane is a flexible and durable alternative to other fabric types. This technology is still evolving as we know it. There are still other developments that can improve on the material availability and options for creative designs.
Rapid prototyping revolutionizes the production process
The people involved in product development, engineering and other form-giving applications benefit greatly from the opportunities and potential for innovation provided by RP. The versatility and dynamic use of rapid prototyping has expanded its role from a mere process for creating prototypes or product models for final product design and approval, to becoming an integration into the actual production process, revolutionizing the way products are created. Prototech Asia recognizes the importance and various applications of RP technologies, especially vacuum casting/molding technology. It can actually be used as part of the production process aside from making a prototype or product model. Startups, small and medium production lines and on-demand production providers can benefit from the low cost and high detail , accuracy of silicone or polyurethane molds created from vacuum casting. This can actually be used as an alternative manufacturing step to housing or cover assemblers or attachments and plastic injection molds. Although molds created from vacuum casting have limited reusability, the molds can actually be reused up to 20 times, which still makes it very efficient and cost-effective for making a sizeable number of products on a daily basis.
Looking at things from a fiscal perspective, the vacuum casting technology of RP is a several times cheaper ($1500-$2000) than a typical injection mold machine, which costs at least $80,000. Although the injection mold has the advantage when it comes to durability and number of products that can be created, it can be considered as a later investment once the starting phase of the production has stabilized or is steadily increasing. When it comes to starting a production line on a limited budget, vacuum casting can be considered as a wise investment. It can create high-quality and high-accuracy molds for housings, product attachments and parts on a limited capacity only. The production time can also be shortened significantly from 4-6 weeks (using injection molding) to at least 2 weeks using vacuum casting. This is because the alternative material (typical polyurethane), has lower curing time, which means the form becomes solid and stable as early as two weeks. You may not be able to start out big when it comes to product numbers, but what is important is the shortened production time and lower production costs, wherein you can divert the cost savings for other important costs related to production. Fast production time, delivery and cost-effectiveness are essential when you are establishing a stable production line and reaching out to your potential market.
Rapid prototyping unlocks the potential of products
The one thing that challenges designers, developers and engineers is how to show a realistic model of how the products look and tangible changes in their designs. Clients, management staff and potential users need compelling proof on the conceptualized changes or the designs of the products. Digital models coming from three dimensional computer-assisted design (CAD) advancements are no longer enough to convince the company stakeholders and potential users of the product. What they need is tangible proof of the proposed design or enhancements of the product.
RP offers a rapid and accurate way of giving form and validity of the conceptualized changes or revolutionary design of a product. The design and development teams can explore and realize concepts more quickly with 3D designing. Concepts are then moved further than visualization by applying RP technologies such as Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Stereolithography (STL), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), and 3D Printing. The benefits of realizing the potential of a product are as follows:
Design concepts are materialized
RP offers realization and giving form to the concepts of the design and engineering team. Mere digital and visual representation is no longer enough to work out the concept of a product or product enhancement. Designers can then check further on their ideas through the form created. Iterations and modifications can then be made now that there is a concrete idea on how the generated design works. Also, clients can see a convincing and realistic product model which they can assess for acceptability.
Immediate application of changes
Now that the prototype or model of the product is given physical form, it is easier to incorporate the changes immediately once assessment and feedback are received from quality checkers, clients and customers. Before the finalization of the product design, iterations or re-processing steps are needed. These are important to improve the design further and achieve a product that meets the specifications of both the manufacturer and the consumer – a win-win situation. Also, RP improves the adaptability of manufacturers to the changing specifications of the products’ markets.
Cost and time savings
The hefty cost demanded by typical manufacturing processes and assembly lines can be lowered with the incorporation of RP. Creating prototypes, making product iterations and making the first approved production item can incur lower cost and faster implementation through the use of RP technologies. Rather than create product models using actual materials, alternative materials and molds can help lower the cost and curing time significantly. The time it takes for the housing or the molded shape and dimensions to harden and stabilize is lower with the use of PR materials.
Easy customization of designs
Going back to the challenge that designers, engineers and developers of products face, it is the complicated design, dimensions and geometry that hinder the realization of the prototype. With the modern enhancements of CAD software, the 3D design of the prototype can now take on intricate details that weren’t possible in the previous versions. If customizations and modifications are needed for products based on the feedback of consumers, the designers can just revisit the original 3D design and incorporate the new specifications. Manufacturers will find this beneficial because it establishes a good connection with the customers and the market in general.
Reduction of product defects
Defects and flaws in the product and its design can be prevented and minimized through RP. The alternative material used for making the prototype is nearly similar to the original material in terms of properties and strength. This makes the physical testing and inspection easier. As early as the prototyping stage, the detected flaws can be worked on as an iterative process. Early detection of defects, faults and usability issues can help prevent compounding problems that might occur later during the manufacturing process.
Rapid prototyping has evolved during the past several decades and has taken on a wider role in different fields. Outside of manufacturing and mass production, many fields such as medical, cosmetic and fashion industries are recognizing the importance and potential of RP. The task of designing and conceptualizing product designs and incorporating improvements and revisions to previous designs are no longer daunting and complicated thanks to the innovations and technologies incorporated with RP. As the need of different consumers and the expansion of markets worldwide are increasing, the need for efficient, versatile and innovative technology that comes with production is also inevitable. This is something rapid prototyping is constantly working to achieve – future-proofing the production process.