For inventors and product designers, there’s a bit of electricity in the air when an idea makes the leap from notes and scribblings on cocktail napkins to an artist concept. Most of these artist concepts are two-dimensional images – whether hand-drawn or created using modeling software. And although two-dimensional images are a fair representation of a product concept – with color and shading and even texture – nothing compares to a physical 3D model. A first real prototype that you can hold in your hand is something that also facilitates iterative testing. In most cases, when an idea or design requires a prototype for testing, rapid prototyping technology is used to produce small runs of product prototypes. But some would say that rapid prototypes are expensive to create and take ages to get back from the prototyping labs. With modern rapid prototyping and the use of 3D printers, this isn’t entirely true.
Rapid prototyping via 3D printers is a technology that has been available for use in product research since the 1980s. Earliest use of these rapid prototyping machines was often reserved for universities and commercial products research. But much has changed in rapid prototyping since the early days. Rapid prototyping is now used to quickly develop cost-effective prototypes for the automotive, medical, academic, aerospace, military, and consumer product markets. The media used in rapid prototyping can vary from one prototyping machine to another, but many 3D printers create models by extruding beads of thermoplastic (in layers as fine as 0.04 mm thick) in a process called fused deposition modeling (or fused filament fabrication). The layering process used in this type of modeling is often referred to as an additive manufacturing method – as the thermoplastic media is used to build models by layering the deposited material in a controlled process that makes use of a computer-aided manufacturing software and a movable platform.
Rapid prototyping produces a tangible, yet strong and durable product. Rapid prototyping is also widely available across the U.S. In fact, rapid prototyping services in Kansas are readily available – with turnaround in as little as 4-12 weeks.
The Rapid Prototyping Process:
- A model using computer-aided design (CAD) is created for the design
- The CAD model is converted into an STL (stereolithography) file format that can be read by computer-aided manufacturing
- The design in the STL file is then converted into thin layer “slices”
- The modeling equipment reads the slices and translates them into thermoplastic layers
- The finished model is removed and cleaned and ready for the client
Rapid prototyping and 3D printing equipment are technologies that can bring your product to life, as well as help you test the product before moving into full-scale production and manufacturing. So, if you’re an inventor or product creator that has ever imagined holding a 3D model of your product concept in your hand – actually seeing how your sketches and designs translate to a physical model, you may want to consider rapid prototyping.
The Rapid Prototyping Services in Kansas article is just one of many resources designed to help inventors, entrepreneurs and businesses prepare to launch new products into the marketplace. PRG Prototyping specializes in designing and building new products – with a focus on concept design engineering, design for manufacturability, prototype development, production, and marketing presentations. PRG can also provide information on patent protection and intellectual property services.