What Is 3D Printing Rapid Prototyping?
What this actually means is that a computer generated design from a 3D design software package is translated into thin horizontal slices. These layers are created one at a time to create a real physical model where the layers are joined together or fused automatically to create the final model. It is a 'what you see is what you get' process where the virtual model is almost identical to the physical model. This gives the technology a fundamental advantage over traditional techniques as it can create almost any geometric feature or shape, in a host of colours and structures.
The word Rapid is relative as some 3D printed models can take only a few hours to build whereas others may take several days. The time taken to build is dependent on the size, complexity and the technique being used.
There are a variety of methods that can be used to deposit the material and which one is best for your project will depend on what you want from your models. They are:
Selective Layer Sintering (SLS)
3D Printing (3DP)
Fused Deposition modelling (FDM)
All of these techniques require a second material that is known as the support material, which allows tapered surfaces and overhangs to be produced as the component is 'grown'. These come in a variety of forms that can be powder, liquid, wax or even the model material that has to be cleaned or removed from the model afterwards. Some machines generate the support structure for you so you have no control over where it goes, whereas other machines you have to manually generate the support material using specialist software.
An interesting thing about 3D Printing Rapid Prototyping is that because the models themselves are of such a high production value and finish they can be used as production parts themselves in the right circumstances. It is my firm belief that this process will become the norm in the future, where one offs and high cost parts are rendered and printed by a 3D Printing Rapid Prototype machine, saving on the costs of tooling and manufacturing.
This really is not as far fetched an idea as you might think. There are now machines small enough to sit on your desktop and large enough to print an entire engine block!
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