How will the object in your sketch, or your computer-aided design actually look and feel? Will your new component fit into its overall assembly or properly house the object it needs to? Will the product even work?
What is rapid prototyping and rapid prototyping processes? Rapid manufacturing technologies – bridging the gap between concept and reality in cost-effective, time-effective and effort-effective ways.
You probably are accustomed to seeing new and slick products on store shelves daily. But have you ever paused to ask yourself what kind of design, prototyping and production phases have these products been through? In the first phase the inventor would chalk out a theoretical overall design of how the product would function and what purposes would it serve – this can be done either on a piece of paper or a computer aided design software. Once the inventor is satisfied with the depth and detail of the design; he would then move onto prototyping that design. Initially, the prototype does not have to be very elaborate and detailed – probably the inventor would need to prototype just a certain aspect of the product, like the complex gear system of a new kind of bicycle.
After going back and forth between design and raw prototyping, at some point the inventor would need a prototype that’s a thorough and accurate replica of the end product. This is when the world of rapid prototyping processes kick into action. Rapid Prototyping is also known as three dimensional printing, layered manufacturing, computer automated manufacturing, additive fabrication and solid freeform fabrication. Rapid Prototyping can be loosely described as techniques used to construct a scale model of a product using the help of Computer Aided Design (CAD). The general idea behind using Rapid Prototyping technologies is to help in the product visualization process by creating a 3-D map of the product. Doing this is useful because (1) it eliminates the costs attached to making mistakes at later (and more expensive) stages of development, (2) it brings down overall development time considerably and (3) it’s a fool proof means of transferring design specifications over to manufacturing units.
Stereolithography is one of the most common types of Rapid Prototyping processes. A computer controlled UV laser draws the image of the object on the surface of liquid plastic. The laser takes passes at hitting the liquid plastic and thereby hardening it. At the completion of each pass, the object would be lowered so that the UV laser could go through its next pass – this process continues and the end result is a carved out 3-D physical model of the object.
Selective laser sintering also works with a high powered laser – as the laser selectively moves over the surface of thermoplastic powder it fuses cross-sections of the material layer by layer. As one layer is completed, the process is repeated by lowering the powdered bed and adding a fresh layer of material.
3-D Printing is the process in which a liquid adhesive is applied to layers of powder via an ink-jet head.
Fused Deposition Modeling is a additive manufacturing process that was developed in the 1980s by S. Scott Crump. The Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) process consists of having a heated melted thread of plastic pass onto a laid down “build-platform” in a layer by layer fashion via an extrusion nozzle. The nozzle is controlled by a mechanical device and a computer aided manufacturing software which holds the final image of the product. Upon hitting the build platform, the liquid solidifies and the platform lowers where the next layer of liquid is laid upon it. This process continues until the product is complete.
Rapid Prototyping allows one to produce very accurate, beautiful and complex objects to suit an array of purposes. It is as a high end tool that’s being used for diagnostics, pre-operative planning, concept modeling and early design flaw detection. It’s a technology that is making its way into almost every aspect of our lives - from education and art to manufacturing, engineering, medicine and architecture.