The Guide to Rapid Prototyping with AM

Want to shorten product development cycles and accelerate time to market? Learn all about using 3D printing for rapid prototyping.

Rapid prototyping involves creating physical parts to verify designs and test a product’s capabilities in an experimental approach.

With additive manufacturing, rapid prototyping speeds up product development and accelerates time to market. The prototype is received quickly and cost-efficiently, helping validate designs and iterate as needed before production begins.

Key Takeaways

  • Rapid prototyping reduces development cycles
  • Prototypes can be used purely for modeling or be functional
  • A range of 3D printing technologies offer different advantages when rapid prototyping
  • Ideally, sourcing all types of prototypes should be quick and inexpensive
  • Rapid prototyping varies in cost, depending on the design, technology, and materials

Benefits of Rapid Prototyping

Rapid prototyping boasts a range of uses. Some of the applications, as defined by the German Association of Engineers, include the following:

Concept models are the first physical version of a product or concept. The model isn’t functional or necessarily built to scale but represents the product’s appearance. This previews what the final product will look and feel like.

Geometric prototypes represent the dimensions or form of the part. The material properties aren’t relevant.

Functional prototypes are working parts designed to test specific mechanical characteristics of the finished part. Their dimensions and appearance may differ from those of the final part.

Technical prototypes are close to being a finished part and are used for testing.

Regardless of the application, rapid prototyping offers several significant benefits.

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Explore New Ideas

Rapid prototyping allows you to test new ideas, whether incremental improvements to existing designs or radical reimagining of a proven part. It is designed to be fast and affordable, so there are no long lead times or heavy investments.

Save Time and Iterate Quickly

The initial design can be imperfect. Rapid prototyping makes testing and iterating each design viable, even if it’s just a tiny modification. Once you test out the part, it’s easy to make any changes and create a new prototype for further testing.

Gather Feedback

A fully functional or purely visual prototype makes gathering feedback from colleagues and potential users easy. Getting this feedback before the production phase can be invaluable.

Reduce Flaws

Extensively prototyping a new design can identify any potential flaws or shortcomings. This helps save time and money, as the product can be ready for production with any possible issues ironed out.

Additive Rapid Prototyping Technologies

The additive manufacturing technologies that make rapid prototyping possible are varied and have different attributes, materials, and benefits.

Laser Powder Bed Fusion: This technology produces metal parts. It’s capable of highly complex and accurate parts. No additional tooling is required, and it’s a relatively affordable technology because unused metal powder can be recycled.

Multi Jet Fusion: This additive manufacturing technology for polymers is highly accurate and fast. It’s an economical method for rapid prototyping, as it offers a meager cost per part.

Selective Laser Sintering: This is also an efficient technology for producing parts out of polymers. One advantage of this technology is the range of materials available, which offers options for rapid prototyping. You can learn more about the differences between Multi Jet Fusion and Selective Laser Sintering.

Fused Deposition Modeling: FDM is an affordable, easy-to-use way to produce thermoplastic parts. It’s a popular technology for both functional prototyping and prototyping for visual or geometric assessments.

To learn more about each technology and material, you can visit the Tech & Material Advisor on the MakerVerse platform to find the exact combination you need for your prototype.

Parts made with Selective Laser Sintering (left) and Multi Jet Fusion (right)

How to Start with Rapid Prototyping 

Whenever we interview industry leaders about how to get started, they all repeat the Nike slogan, ” Just do it.”

Identify a use case (even a small one with a limited impact), do online research to learn anything you need clarification on, and then make the prototype. Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that. You can invest in your 3D printers, use an on-demand printing service, or combine the two to make the part.

Investing in your machines is familiar to larger companies and has its benefits when scaling. However, this route requires capital expenditures and in-house expertise to use a printer efficiently. Another drawback is that many varied 3D printing technologies and materials exist, so gaining flexibility for many applications would require a considerable investment. Alternatively, you can use an on-demand manufacturing platform like MakerVerse.

Simply upload a design and get an instant quote based on the technology, materials, and post-processing method you need. Lead times are fast, and there’s no upfront investment, so you can rapidly prototype without breaking the bank.

How Much Does Rapid Prototyping Cost?

There’s no standard cost for rapid prototyping. A small polymer part might cost the price of your lunch, while an enormous titanium component could cost thousands of euros. However, prototyping with 3D printing is typically cheaper and faster than traditional manufacturing methods.

“Complexity for free” is a common saying in additive manufacturing.

That means you can design highly complex and intricate parts that are less expensive than simple, straightforward ones. Like in the same way, no additional tooling is required, further saving time and money. Additive manufacturing differs from traditional methods, where complex designs lead to higher costs and longer lead times.

Complexity might be accessible with additive manufacturing, but every other decision affects the cost.

Material: Various polymers and metals offer different mechanical properties. Prices can vary depending on the material, so research what best suits your project.

Part Volume: With 3D printing, you’re not paying for complexity. You are, however, paying for volume. The more material a part requires, the more it will cost. This guide will help you reduce the cost of metal 3D printing.

Post-processing Method: Some parts require extra attention after printing, whether dyeing for visual reasons, heat treatment, or other options. Learn more about the post-processing options here.

Start Prototyping Today

3D printing lets you quickly test new ideas and shorten design and development cycles. You can iterate and improve your parts while quickly validating your ideas. Make any adjustments and easily see the results. In short, rapid prototyping saves you a lot of time.

The MakerVerse platform provides the tools needed for rapid prototyping. For any prototype, you can choose from a variety of technologies, materials, and post-processing options.