Oxford Rapid Prototyping > What is Rapid Prototyping? and other FAQs

What is Rapid Prototyping? and other FAQs

What is Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid Prototyping is the process of quickly fabricating a physical part, model or assembly using 3D CAD (computer-aided design) data.

Who uses Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid Prototyping has been available since the late 1980s. It was used mostly to manufacture models and prototype parts in the automotive industry. Today, CAD has spread to other industries, so Rapid Prototyping is used in a wide range of applications.

How does Rapid Prototyping work?

There are many technologies which can be classed as Rapid Prototyping. Most Rapid Prototyping technologies use layered additive manufacturing, but it can also include high-speed machining, molding, casting, and extruding.

What is layered additive manufacturing?

Traditional Manufacturing (TM) methods usually start with a large block of material and cut it away, and so are known as Subtractive Manufacturing methods. Additive Manufacturing (AM) slowly adds material to build up the desired shapes. Layered Additive Manufacturing is any additive manufacturing technology which builds parts one layer at a time. Most technologies build flat planes on top of each other, but some technologies build outwards in concentric spheres of material.

What are the advantages of Rapid Prototyping?

1. Realize Your Design Ideas – Rapid prototyping allows designers to truly understand the look and feel of the design, and provides proof-of-concept for the client.
2. Test More Solutions – With each iteration, the design improves, building confidence for both the designer and the customer.
3. Incorporate Changes Instantly – Designers can get their prototype back quickly and carry on working, rather than waiting for weeks to see if their design works.
4. Save Cost and Time – The cost and time required to develop moulds, patterns and special tools is eliminated.
5. Reduce Waste – Rapid prototyping only uses the material required to build the object.
6. Minimise Design Flaws – Faults and usability issues can be identified earlier, prior to mass production.
7. Customise Designs – A small change in the CAD model allows a personalised experience for your customer.

What is 3D Printing?

3D Printing is a subset of Rapid Prototyping technologies, where the complete model is made directly from the 3D CAD model, with minimal user interaction.

What is the difference between Rapid Prototyping and 3D Printing?

“Rapid Prototyping” technically includes a wider range of technologies than “3D Printing”, but they are often used as synonyms. “3D Printing” is mostly used to emphasise the affordability and ease of making models, because of its association with 2D printing. “3D Printing” is more widely understood outside the engineering and manufacturing community.

How does 3D Printing work?

3D printer software slices an object into thousands of tiny layers. Then a 3D printer makes it layer-by-layer to form a solid object. Each layer can be very complex, even including different materials. This means 3D printers can create moving parts like hinges and wheels within a single object.

What are the differences between 3D Printing technologies?

There are a wide variety of 3D printing technologies, which work with different materials. These include Binder Jetting, Electron Beam Melting (EBM), Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), Selective Laser Melting (SLM), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Material Jetting, Photopolymer Jetting, and Stereolithography (SLA). Each technology has a variety of strengths and weaknesses as well as differing costs. Precision and accuracy are dependent on technology.

What is the difference between industrial and hobbyist 3D printers?

Most homemade or hobbyist systems are variations on the RepRap project and Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) pioneered by Stratasys. They are much lower cost, but they have fewer capabilities. Parts made on these systems are rarely usable for engineering because the materials are too soft, brittle and fragile, and there is considerable shrinkage or warping. They are not even very good for visualisation models because actual precision of the device is low, so you can see the layers.

Which 3D Printing technology should I use?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer because this will depend on what you want to make. No 3D printing technology is perfect for everything. Different technologies have differences in precision, accuracy, the materials they work with, cost, ease of use, maximum build size etc.

What is Polyjet?

PolyJet 3D Printing works similarly to 2D inkjet printing. The 3D printer jets and instantly UV-cures tiny droplets of liquid photopolymer. 16 micron layers are built up to create one or several precise 3D models or parts. Where overhangs or complex shapes require support, the 3D printer jets a water-soluble support material. Using different liquid photopolymers, it can produce 450 different colours, make transparent objects and simulate a wide variety of engineering plastics.

Why should I use Polyjet technology?

Polyjet Printing offers exceptional detail, surface smoothness and precision, achieving complex shapes, intricate details and delicate features. Where overhangs or complex shapes require support materials, the 3D printer creates a water soluble support material that is simply washed off at the end of the print. A state-of-the-art Stratasys Objet 500 Connex3 is capable of combining vivid colour and multiple materials. You can simulate the precise look, function and feel of finished products with more than 450 possible colours. You can digitally blend rubbers, clears and engineering resins to create extremely high resolution parts with almost any mechanical and visual property required. Mechanical, optical or thermal properties can be varied within a single print job, to print non-slip grips, transparent windows, flexible hinges or heat-resistant surfaces.

How Precise are 3D Printed Parts?

This depends on the 3D printer and the part geometry. The Stratasys Objet 500 Connex3 can print 16 micron layers giving a very smooth surface finish. However, we recommend that all features should be bigger than 1 mm, because otherwise they are too fragile to clean.

What is Rapid Tooling?

One of the fastest growing areas of Rapid Prototyping is Rapid Tooling. Rapid Tooling uses a Rapid Prototyping technology to make a part which is then used as a tool in another manufacturing process. This can be a jig, fixture or injection mould tool. Rapid Tooling is quicker and cheaper than traditional tooling, allowing for more design changes. The tools can be lighter, so they are easier to handle. The tools can even be disposable, so storage and inventory becomes unnecessary. It is becoming increasingly common for many different manufacturing processes because the parts can be made very quickly and very strong.

Can I use Rapid Prototyping to make an Injection Moulding tool?

Low volume injection moulds can be made using Rapid Prototyping, using special temperature resistant materials.

What is Additive Manufacture?

“Additive Manufacture” is the term for when a 3D printing technique is used to make a final product for sale. 3D printing can be used to manufacture production-quality parts in small numbers without the typical unfavorable economics of short production runs. Using parts made on “prototyping” equipment as production parts is becoming more common for low volume manufacturing and certain smaller parts that can only be made using an additive manufacturing process. This makes it possible to make every product unique, customised or tailored to an individual customer.

Are there any other names for Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid Prototyping is also known as 3D Printing (3DP), layered manufacturing, layered additive manufacturing, additive layered manufacturing (ALM), additive manufacturing (AM), direct digital fabrication, digital prototyping, digital fabrication, direct digital manufacturing, desktop fabricator, desktop manufacturing, and desktop prototyping. People often, wrongly, use the names of specific 3D printing techniques, such as Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), Stereolithography (SL or SLA), Solid Freeform Fabrication (SFF), or Laminated Object Manufacture (LOM).

How is Rapid Prototyping used in Product Development?

Rapid Prototyping can be used at almost every stage of the product development cycle. High precision, reliable quality models can help your business at every step. Illustrate your products to potential investors, partners and customers with full colour, full size models in the correct textures and finishes to fully explain how they will look and feel. Prove your design works with a full size, practical, working demonstrator. Shorten your time to market and maintain short lead times. Manufacture interesting objects by combining colours, transparencies, and hardness in novel ways, and even customise every object you produce to your client.

What is an STL File?

STL is a file format developed by 3D Systems. It’s a simple and portable format used across CAD systems to define the solid geometry. It is the input file to any 3D printer. The surfaces of the solid are modelled as a collection of triangles that share vertices and edges with neighbouring triangles. Nearly all CAD tools can output an STL file. STL files can also be produced using 3D Builder, which is installed by default on computers running Windows 10 and can be downloaded for Windows 8.1.

What resolution should I make my STL File?

The resolution of the STL file will influence the quality of the 3D print. Too high: the file will be too large, and the triangles may overlap or intersect. Too low: the geometry won’t be accurately conveyed and your model may have gaps so be unprintable. If you’re using Solidworks, we recommend a resolution no smaller than 5 degrees and 0.05mm. Alternatively, send us a STEP file (or really any other file type!) so we can convert to STL for you.

Can I 3D print my part without an STL file?

In short, no, because all 3D printers require STL files to 3D print from. However, STL files can be created in almost all CAD programs. If you need help with this, get in touch. We’ve created STL files from photos of origami models before!

How much will it cost to prototype my product?

The cost of a prototype depends on many factors, including volume, height, orientation, material, finish, how much cleaning is required etc. The easiest way to find out is to Get A Quote. If you don’t have a design yet, just describe your idea to us and the basic dimensions and we’ll be able to give you a rough idea.

How long will it take to make my prototype?

That depends on where you buy it from. At Oxford Rapid Prototyping, we guarantee a five day turnaround and next day shipping. If your part is urgent, let us know, because sometimes we can start 3D Printing immediately and get it to you within hours.

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