Product development technologies are continuously evolving. Manufacturers, engineers, and designers are relying on these technologies to make custom parts and prototypes. To keep up with the demand for quality parts, companies have developed cutting-edge rapid prototyping services.
These services are an integral part of product design due to their high accuracy and fast turnaround time. Let's take a closer look at some of the most popular rapid prototyping services and technologies.
What is Rapid Prototyping?
Rapid prototyping is a class of technologies used in the product development process. By utilizing manufacturing technologies, companies can produce multiple designs for engineering testing and evaluation.
These specialized manufacturing techniques bring design ideas to life, from a CAD design to a physical prototype used for market and functional testing. The most common rapid prototyping services include 3D printing, CNC machining, and rapid tooling.
Rapid prototyping processes and techniques have greatly improved in quality and accuracy, and are now applied in many industries, including automotive, fabricated optic prototypes, and rapid injection molds. As a result, engineers can make functional prototypes quickly and at a low cost, which helps them make critical decisions before going into mass production.
How to Choose Between Rapid Prototyping Processes
CNC Machining Services
CNC machining is a subtractive manufacturing process that involves the use of computer-driven milling machine. This technology creates parts and removes layers from blocks of metal, plastic, or wood. It's one of the most common prototype manufacturing techniques.
Prototype manufacturers use CNC machining services because it's fast and economical for clients that need a small number of prototypes. As a rapid prototyping process, you can use this technique to create detail-oriented parts. In addition, CNC machines can cut through various materials, making it easier to design precise parts with speed and excellent surface finishes.
• CNC Prototyping MachiningPrototype machining is an excellent choice for engineers to create functional prototypes with complex geometries. Once prototypes are ready, they can be used for engineering testing and design verification. By using this process, you can bring the design idea to life quickly and at a low cost.
• Custom Low Volume CNC Machining
CNC machining is most suitable for low volume production. During prototype design and production, clients need to launch the parts in the market faster. Manufacturers can use this process to create parts more flexibly and efficiently at a reduced cost.
Materials To Use
You can use these materials when making prototypes via CNC machining.
• CNC Plastic
For optical clarity, you have to select the right rapid prototyping service. CNC plastic processes make custom clear parts that meet their functional needs. With clear plastic parts, you can achieve optical functions, view the inside of products, and improve aesthetics. For instance, automotive lighting lamp lenses, light guides, and displays are created using this process.
• CNC MetalCNC aluminum parts are a top choice for most prototype manufacturers. This material comes with solid durability and tolerance that's perfect for complex manufacturing projects.
As a rapid prototyping service, CNC has the following key machining methods.
• CNC Milling
This subtractive form of manufacturing involves removing material from a stationary workpiece using a rotating cutting tool. It can be applied to plastic and metal materials to create parts. CNC milling is a go-to if you need precise components or molds.
• CNC Turning
CNC turning uses a lathe, which spins the rotating workpiece while the cutting tool remains in one place. This process is well suited for creating round or tubular shapes. With this technology, engineers can create complex curves and geometries.
• 5-axis CNC Machining
5-axis CNC machining is used to create complex parts that come with multiple features up to five sides. You can handle a variety of tasks in the most cost-effective way with this technique.
• Precision CNC Machining
Prototypes need to be accurate to minimize production costs. With precision machining, engineers can produce complex parts that meet perfect accuracy and customer expectations.
For the accuracy of your final product, the prototype must go through critical post finishing processes. Examples are sanding, blasting, polishing, painting, or printing, and these all help bring the final product to life.
3D Printing Services
3D printing is the go-to for engineers searching for rapid prototyping solutions. Designers can print the custom parts quickly and cost-effectively in a variety of different metals and plastics.
As an additive manufacturing process, it combines multiple layers of materials to create prototypes. Designers can then use these parts to detect and fix problems before going into mass production.
The most commonly used 3D printing services are SLA 3D printing (Stereolithography) and SLS 3D printing (Selective Laser Sintering). These techniques offer different mechanical properties and smooth surface finishes. Let's look at them in detail.
• SLA (Stereolithography)
SLA 3D Printing (Stereolithography) is a unique process that uses a computer-controlled laser beam. It draws thousands of thin layers to create final parts using an ultraviolet laser aimed onto the surface of a liquid thermoset resin. It can be used on a wide selection of materials and is excellent for quality surface finishes.
• SLS (Selective Laser Sintering)
On the other hand, SLS 3D Printing (Stereo Laser Sintering) uses a high-power optic laser that fuses small powder particles layer by layer to produce complex and durable geometric parts. This process is well suited to create nylon-filled parts for functional prototypes.
Rapid tooling is also known as prototype tooling. This technology includes processes such as vacuum casting and rapid injection molding. Designers use this method to manufacturing molds for parts.
With rapid tooling, you can make molds for your prototype using a wide array of rubber, metal, or plastic materials. If you need more than 100 batches of a prototype, rapid tooling is the best option. In addition, you can design small batch orders to use for marketing, product evaluations, and process design.
Rapid Tooling involves the following processes.
• Vacuum Casting
Also known as urethane casting, vacuum casting is a prototype machining process that mainly uses silicone molds to create urethane casting to produce functional plastic parts. This technology is more economical and can be used as an alternative to low-volume injection molding of plastic parts.
• Rapid Injection Molding
This production method is applied to plastic molding. Due to its effectiveness in developing molds for commercial purposes, it's well suited to manufacture hundreds of pilot runs for testing rapid prototype parts. The reliance on this procedure stems from the fact that the production time from start to finish is short.
Benefits of Rapid Prototyping
In today's economy, companies need to develop and introduce new products in the market to remain competitive. Therefore, faster product development and innovation are vital to a company's success. Because of this, rapid prototyping has become a crucial element for new product development.
Here are some of the benefits:
• Faster Product Development
Companies can now produce custom parts and prototypes much faster when using rapid tooling, CNC machining, or 3D printing. As a result, the shorter product design and development timeline makes it easier for clients to launch new products. Design teams can also explore and realize concepts more quickly.
• Reduced Product Development Costs
With rapid prototyping, there's cost and time efficiency. The fast turnaround time reduces the overall production costs. In addition, the same equipment can also be used to create multiple designs and parts using different materials, saving on time and cost.
• Allows For Thorough Testing
The advantage of having a prototype is that designers and engineers can test the functionality before creating the final parts. Rapid prototyping services allow manufacturers to create complex designs using a wide array of materials. They can also thoroughly test and review concepts and minimize design flaws by just using low-volume prototypes.
• Efficient Material Testing
Before going into mass production, it's best to know which materials will work best on the product. Using 3D printing, CNC machining, and rapid tooling, engineers can experiment with different materials from aluminum, plastic, or silicone to determine which is the best fit. They can also choose the materials that will work better for the end-user product without incurring extra costs.
• Reduced Risk
Having a ready prototype mitigates the risks that a company would incur during the final production process. With rapid prototyping, the manufacturer can produce low-volume units for testing before going all out, which involves heavy financial investments. If there are any changes in design, they can be implemented early in the prototype development stage.
Get an Idea from Your Rapid Prototyping Services Partner
Rapid prototyping services are versatile and can be applied in numerous processes. By using different materials and technologies, a rapid prototyping company can bring design ideas to life for market research and functional testing. In addition, these technologies deliver custom parts and prototypes within the shortest time possible.
At Wayken, you can get rapid prototyping services and manufacturing solutions to support your product design. We bring your idea to life by producing prototypes and actual end-user products that will get your products to the market much faster. In addition, our experienced team of engineers will deliver quality design models in the shortest time possible.