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5 Reasons to be Cautious of Rapid Prototyping

Like any relatively new technology, rapid prototyping has many plus and minuses. In this article, we will be exploring some of the disadvantages of the RPM.

First, things first, just what is Rapid Prototyping? Rapid Prototyping is a form of additive based layer printing that utilizes CAD (Computer Assisted Design) to create scale models and prototypes. These prototypes can be used to round up investors for a new product, or for display purposes at shows, festivals, fairs and related events. It can also be used to test the functionality of a product for market viability.

Because of it's numerous uses, many people have gravitated towards rapid prototyping manufacturing, but the technology may not be beneficial to everyone.

This list is not in any order of importance and includes and is not limited to:

Post Manufacturing Design Flaws – Although a prototype created via 3D printing and CAD can be fairly stable, the additives used may not be suitable for every industry. For example, the medical and health related industries may find that the end product is not long term sustainable, which can cause problems when trying to demonstrate new techniques or products in the field. This is also largely be due to the fact that the tool surface finish is often rough, whereas many medical instruments have to be clean, clear and smooth. This is not to say that Rapid Prototyping may not be useful or other types of modeling, only that there may be a large variety of industries that may find this type of prototypical solution nonviable.

Not all that Rapid – although it has rapid in the name, truth be told, the 3D Additive Layering process can be rather time consumptive and lengthy. Indeed, building a single component could literally take several hours or days. This can be particularly problematic if one needs the item in question quickly. Developers and engineers beholden to a schedule may also find the slower process of little advantage to them. That said, a 3D printing option may be viable if there are no mechanical or moving parts involved.

The more mechanisms and parts that have to be designed, the longer the whole thing can take. This of course, leads us to another trouble area – Money – Depending on the nature of the project, 3D Printing can be cost effective or really hit the pocket book hard. As stated previously, people in the health or even aeronautic industries may not find additive prototype printing of benefit. A number of factors can create issues with cash flow as this industry often deals with complex machinery with moving parts. This will mean that models and prototypes are going to have to be mechanical in some way. Building a mechanical product with Rapid Prototyping will take a lot of time and can be budget draining.

Customization can be had, but may be limited – 3D printing and additive based rapid prototyping can reach fairly consistent measurements, but may only go so far in its intricacy. This limitation could create issues when it comes to the nuts and bolts aspect of a project. Engineers and designer who may desire to have their model be as true to life as possible for showcasing purpose may have to consider another option, such as EDM or CNC machining, to get the precision sculpting they need for a fine tuned, fully functioning prototype.

Making Changes – A plus and minus – it has been said that 3D Printing allows the client to make changes quickly, enabling them to tweak the end product to their liking. While this is true to an extent, there are code issues that can crop up that make this process a wee bit daunting. That said, these issues can be worked around should a client truly desire to utilize additive printing for their modeling projects.

If you are a designer or engineer looking to bring your content art to life, check out all the advantages and disadvantage of Rapid Prototyping before investing time and money. A qualified machining shop with ISO 9001:2008 certification would be your best bet, so shop around and investigate before you buy. It could be well worth the time and effort in the end.

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