Rapid prototyping makes technologies affordable by enabling mass customization


Technical Insights Rapid Prototyping Technology Analysis

Palo Alto, Calif. -- July 13, 2004 -- The growing trends toward mass customization and demand for the quick turnaround of parts have boosted the importance of rapid prototyping (RP) as a manufacturing process. By quickly creating prototypes, RP enables faster time to market. In some cases, it can also reduce manufacturing costs by fabricating end-user parts without the need for hard tooling or molds.

Rapid prototyping technologies are exceptionally useful for short runs of specifically tailored parts or products. With RP, manufacturers can produce parts in hours and customization becomes as easy as changing a data file. RP can also aid engineering companies by enabling them to make prototypes quickly within the office environment itself.

In addition, RP helps designers and engineers design parts without having to adapt the design to the constraints of traditional manufacturing. It makes it easier to add customized features and complex designs.

Of the four main RP processes fused deposition modeling, selective laser sintering, stereolithography (SLA), and 3D printing some consider SLA to be the most suited to customize parts because of its ability to produce fine feature details. SLA is used in the dental, hearing aid, jewelry, and motor sport markets.

RP technologies have gained a place in the toolbox of a number of manufacturers such as automotive, toys, golf equipment, medical devices, shoes, and NASA.

Despite SLA's popularity, many companies are looking to 3D printing as one of the most promising technologies in the RP field.

"3D printing allows prototypes or models to be made in an office setting, quickly and efficiently," says Technical Insights Research Analyst Shirley Savage. "3D printing is the breakout technology that will make RP a common engineering and manufacturing tool."

Already having netted 40 percent of the RP market, 3D printing is set to be the 'killer application' that will popularize RP technology. These expectations are based on its versatility, accommodation of a wide range of materials, and its easy use in an office environment.

The fact that 3D does not have any geometric limitations and hence, engineers can design just about any part using this process also attributes to its printing's potential.

"Manufacturers have shown interest in 3D printing as it can help produce prototypes as well as parts for end use directly from a computer-aided design model," notes Savage.

"Among its many firsts, 3D printing has the distinction of pioneering fabrication of ceramic parts," comments Savage. "Developers of 3D printing process are currently focusing on speeding up the process and looking for new ways to use materials other than plastics to broaden the range of applications."

Rapid Prototyping Technology, part of the Industrial Manufacturing Vertical Subscription Service, analyzes its uses in various applications, and examines the techniques involved. The research also looks at the future of this technology and explains the importance of advanced manufacturing. The RP processes included in this study are fused deposition modeling, selective laser sintering, stereolithography (SLA), 3D printing, combination RP techniques, and Internet-based RP and RP software. Executive summaries and interviews are available to the press.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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