Rapid prototyping (RP) is when a scale model of a part or assembly is quickly created using 3D computer-aided design (CAD). Stereolithography is recognised as the first Rapid prototyping technique and was developed by 3D Systems of Valencia located in California. Since the company’s founding in 1986, a range of other Rapid prototyping techniques is in use.
Rapid prototyping is also referred to as layered manufacturing, solid free-form manufacturing and computer automated manufacturing. By using Rapid prototyping to create scale models, it is easy to visualise what a part would look like and how it would work. Additionally, Rapid prototyping models can be used for testing. Although in some cases Rapid prototyping models can be used as the final part, often the material is neither accurate or strong enough to be long lasting. However, Rapid prototyping models are often used to create male models for tooling, including investment casts and rubber moulds. Using suitable Rapid prototyping material allows intricate shapes to be made, including parts within parts.
Fused Deposit Modelling (FDM) is a process where plastic filament is heated and then squeezed through a nozzle to make precise layers which are placed on top of one another to create a 3D model. FDM can use a range of plastic materials to ensure the right strength and temperature properties are available. These include PLA, ABS, polyamides, polystyrene, polycarbonate, lignin and many others.
PLA plastic is great for prototyping lost wax (investment) castings. The manufacturing time is reduced because accurate models are created in one process using the tree assembly, eliminating the need to create individual art moulds. This means your product can be on the market fast with reduced production costs. PLA is smooth and rigid, making it perfect for prototype components and small parts that must be inflexible.
ABS plastic is flexible and strong, producing working prototypes that are dimensionally accurate and durable.
Stereolithography (SLA) is a Rapid prototyping process that uses a UV laser and a vat of liquid UV-curable photopolymer resin to form parts layer by layer. The SLA process is great for building master patterns, trade show models and concept models.
Maximum dimensions available: 635mm x 635mm x 533mm.
Selective laser sintering (SLS) is an Rapid prototyping process that uses a powerful laser to bind small particles of powder together to create parts layer by layer. The SLS process is highly suitable for small-scale manufacturing and testing part functionality.
SLS creates long-wearing practical parts with a variety of uses. SLS is ideal for making living hinges and snap fits.
Maximum dimension available: 711mm x 482mm x 482mm.
MultiJet Printing (MJP) is an innovative Rapid prototyping process using photopolymer materials and UV bulbs. It provides a fast turnaround for fully cured parts that are smooth and highly detailed.
MultiJet Printing - ProJet® machines completely cure each layer of extremely fine UV curable acrylic plastics and support materials. The support material can be easily disconnected from the part by a washing and melting process. No extra finishing treatments are required.
Completed MJP parts can be drilled, machined, chrome-plated, used for direct casting patterns and readily absorb paint.
CJP is an Rapid prototyping process involving two main components – core and binder. The Core™ material is spread in thin layers with a roller over the build platform. The colour binder is then selectively streamed through the print heads over the core layer after each individual layer is spread. This results in the core layer solidifying. The build platform then lowers with each new layer which is spread and printed, eventuating in a full-colour 3D model.
The models can be printed in either colour or white and additionally can be wax coated to even out the surface or clear coated for a hard, smooth finish.
CNC milling involves subtractive modelling using CNC machines which remove material to create a 3D part. CNC milling can be used for either end part manufacturing or prototyping. Items produced using this process can be made from most types of material, meaning the parts are suitable for real life applications such as testing and product validations. CNC milling is more appropriate for the final stages of design as manufacturing can be costly.
The fabrication process involves connecting raw materials together to create a model or part. This process suits working prototypes or end products. Fabrication is best suited to the final design stages as production can be costly and take time.