Rapid prototyping is a modeling technique that can speed up and improve new product development. Manufacturers, component suppliers and product designers use computer-aided design tools and rapid prototyping techniques such as three-dimensional printing or stereolithography to create physical scale models of products for analysis and production tooling. There are numerous advantages to using rapid prototyping.
Rapid prototyping opens new opportunities for innovation by eliminating the restrictions of conventional prototyping, which requires production of prototype tooling and physical components to exacting tolerances.. Designers can create models incorporating complex shapes and surfaces that would be difficult or impossible to reproduce by conventional prototyping.
By eliminating the time needed to produce molds, patterns and special tools required for conventional modeling, rapid prototyping reduces time between initial design and analysis. An accurate model is quickly available for testing form, features, performance and usability. Rapid prototyping is a highly automated process that enables designers to quickly modify products in line with feedback. The time savings can help organizations gain competitive advantage by bringing new products to market quickly, ahead of competitors.
Rapid prototyping helps to reduce the costs of product development. There is no need to develop special tools for each new product. Rapid prototyping uses the same CAD and printing equipment each time. The automated prototyping process also reduces staff costs. The costs of waste are lower, because the prototyping technique only adds modeling material where needed. Conventional prototyping techniques create waste through cut-off material or chippings as the tools create the finished model.
The ability to create a realistic three-dimensional scale model helps designers present new product concepts to stakeholders, such as board members, clients or investors who need to understand and approve the development program. Designers can also gain feedback from potential users and customers that is based on physical products, rather than concepts, enabling them to incorporate realistic usability data into the later stages of development.
By enabling detailed physical analysis at an early stage in the development program, rapid prototyping can reduce the risk of costly errors. The development team can identify design faults or usability problems and make any modifications quickly. The iterative process provides a precise model for production tooling, reducing the risk of later manufacturing problems.
Rapid prototyping is an iterative process, so it is easy to incorporate individual customers’ requirements and create customized products cost effectively. Development teams do not have to design each customized product from scratch. Customization can provide a strong competitive advantage by offering customers greater choice and flexibility.