Rapid Prototyping was developed in the 80’s and was originally used in the construction of models and prototype parts. CAD software designs are transformed into virtual images one section or layer at a time until a #-D image exists on a computer screen, the image is manufactured using plastics or composite materials. The result is a physical model that is nearly identical to its virtual self. After the virtual image is constructed various layers of liquid, sheet materials and powder builds up and creates the 3-D object, thus using Rapid Prototyping.
Even though they are referred to as ‘rapid’ some larger more intricate models can take up to several days. However, models can usually be produced in just a matter of hours. The other option, injection molding, is less expensive and better for higher quantity orders, but Rapid Prototyping costs less when the quantities remain small. Some of these 3-D printers can be as small as a normal desk top printer. Most machines run in the 30,000 to 50,000 dollar range. As of today there are numerous techniques to Rapid Prototyping mainly involving the materials used.
The five types of rapid Prototyping include: Selective Laser Sintering, Fused Deposition Molding, Stereo lithography, Laminated Object Manufacturing and last but not least 3-D molding. Base materials used range from paper, titanium alloy, photopolymers and metal powders. There is no doubt that much of the Rapid Prototyping process seems to come straight out of a Holllywood sci-fi movie.
But it is very much alive and well used in the U.S. and other nations. In recent years a number of university scientists developed a new technique for Rapid Prototyping involving the construction of clay, 3-D models. The models are produced by the machine and CAD software then made into clay and fired inside a kiln just as a normal clay sculpture would be. Numerous industries have picked up on the efficiency of this type of manufacturing and have parts and first run production pieces made. Some of these industries include Medical equipment, car parts and toy designers.
Perhaps the biggest market for this production lies in the auto industry and its counterparts such as part producers and contracted shops and factories. Whether you have a great and original toy idea or need to perform open heart surgery there is no doubt that you might stumble upon, and use, a Rapid Prototyping machine. As computer technology advances so too will the 3-D model industry.
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