Rapid prototyping is a wide range of industrial techniques used for fabricating "prototypes", namely the physical model, or models, of a future end product.
Rapid prototyping can be used in just about all industrial sectors as it makes possible to produce prototypes with any geometric complexity or shape; also, models can be made of numerous materials. From design to production all industries can benefit from rapid prototyping, but also private customers can bring their ideas to life using this technology.
The process starts with a 3D file created using a CAD program, the file is then converted into STL file setting a number of parameters so to obtain a fine mesh and, consequently, increase the prototype accuracy and resolution. Then, a feasibility study evaluates the project paying a special attention to wall thickness while taking into account the technology chosen for the production. The prototype manufacturing process is now ready to begin: STL files are sent to the machine and physical models are produced.
Depending on the selected technology, once the prototype is ready it’s usually necessary to remove the support material (used for holding up the parts while being manufactured) or, if need be, to finish the surface of the products.
Last, a full dimensional analysis is carried out so to check if the prototype complies with the required dimensions and tolerances.
Technologies and Materials
There are numerous rapid prototyping technologies, they differ in terms of methods of production and materials.
Following are the major technologies and methods:
- Stereolithography SLA: a laser solidifies the liquid material contained in a basin inside the machine; this fabrication technique employs epoxy resins.
- Selective laser sintering SLS: a laser fuses the powdered material inside the machine; the materials used are polyamides (PA or Nylon).
- FDM Technology: two extrusion nozzles build up the physical model one layer at a time; FDM uses ABS, PC, PC-ABS, PPSF, Ultem, PC-ISO.
- Objet Technology: epoxy resins are jetted layer by layer using 8 printing heads, it’s a very quick method.
- Direct Metal Laser Sintering DMLS: this technology fuses metal powder, contained in the machine, into a solid part using a laser; there are several alloys available for use such as stainless steel, titanium, aluminium, cobalt chromium, etc.
These are the most common rapid prototyping methods, but there are also other technologies available
Why choose ZARE Prototyping
Thanks to our wide range of machines and rapid prototyping technologies we are able to quickly address the needs of our customers.
Our team is skilled and experienced, thus we can fabricate rough parts, but also we can paint the models, even using special protective coatings; furthermore, we offer a variety of finishes options such as: carbon fiber, wood, chrome-plating and metal plating. We provide expert advice and personalized customer service using our experience to respond to your needs.
Following are some examples of how we used our rapid prototyping technologies to meet our customers requests quickly and effectively.
1. A functioning and visually pleasing storage tank
In this instance we responded to two specific needs: our customer wanted a visually pleasing product to be displayed at a trade fair, but also a functioning product that was going to be tested by introducing water and soap inside the tank.
We decided to fabricate the prototype dividing it into 4 different parts and using Selective laser sintering SLS; the material we used was Aluminium filled Nylon. We assembled the different parts using high-strength structural adhesives and we coated the inside of the tank with a special resin that performs two tasks: it avoids leaks and prevents the solvent from damaging the material. Lastly, we finished and painted the model according to the customer’s requests.
2. Metal-plated definitive alarm clocks
Our customer had to produce about 30 final alarm clocks to be provided to retailers, but the steel moulds weren’t available yet.
We decided to produce the alarm clocks using silicon moulding, then we used vacuum metallizing and we rapidly achieved the desired effect.
3. Cubic printed front panel, carbon fiber look
In this instance the customer asked for a definitive front panel for a car mock-up that would be shown to the end user.
Using FDM rapid prototyping process we manufactured the component (850mm long) as a monolithic object made of ABS. Then, we prepared the surface and with cubic printing we obtained the carbon fiber effect. When mounted on the car mock-up the front panel was definitely visually pleasing, but at the same time it provided our customer with a prototype that was just like the end product because the material we used, ABS, is the same material used for the final production.