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3D printing: Good Choice for Prototype manufacturing


Prototyping is an essential part of the development process of a new product. It saves time, costs and helps to move the process along. But with traditional manufacturing in place, prototyping has yet to meet its full potential. With 3D printing, the process of creating the perfect prototype for a product can be faster, cheaper, and more accessible. Let’s discover the world of rapid prototyping!

What is 3D Printing

3D printing or additive manufacturing is a relatively new technology that offers new ways to make proofs of concept, prototypes, and end products. At the beginning of 3D printing, it was almost exclusively used for prototyping future products. This was due to the fact that the technology was laid out for smaller machines and was not developed enough to produce and print really precise models. Obviously, this has changes over the last few decades. 

Additive manufacturing adds layer after layer of material to create a desired outcome. Traditional manufacturing approaches need a mold or material block to start production. This also means more material is wasted than when using 3D printing, which only needs material that contributes to the actual product.  

Another significant aspect mentioned in connection with 3D printing is freedom of design. The unique layer-to-layer process makes it possible to design and create products like never before. To print a 3D object, a 3D file with a 3D model is needed. There the designer can create objects almost free of any design restrictions. It allows new possibilities to see and create objects and shape a new tomorrow. 

Often there is the assumption that those printed parts are rigid and bulky. However, through many different material innovations over the last few decades, 3D printing offers various materials like resin, powder, metal, or filaments with multiple properties, like flexibility and hardness. Your 3D printed part can be hard to withhold pressure or soft like a gumball. There are almost endless possibilities. 

Many different 3D printing technologies, such as Multi Jet Fusion and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), specialize in powder printing. 

Filament materials are differentiated into polymer and metal. Polymer filaments are printed mainly using Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology, and metal parts are produced via Direct Metal Sintering (DMLS)/ Selective Laser Sintering (SLM) technology. When printing resin, there are multiple printing options as well, like Stereolithography (SLA), Digital Light Processing (DLP)/ Liquid Crystal Display (LCD), Polyjet, and CLIP technology. 

If you want to know more about how 3D-printing works, check out our ultimate 3D-printing guide.

Why is Prototyping useful?

Before a product is put on the production line, it must be ensured that it meets all the requirements that the company has for the product. A prototype is a perfect solution. It is an essential step within the design and development process. 

But what exactly is a prototype? It is a smaller but functional test version of the later product. Using a prototype is to get valuable information and feedback concerning the design and to know whether the product will later work as intended. But this also means that usually, more than one prototype is needed.  Often the first prototype is built, then it gets tested, and with the information and feedback selected from the tests, a newly updated prototype is created. And this cycle continues until the developers are satisfied with the information they receive. 

Prototypes are also an asset when it comes to selling the product. The seller can show sponsors or investors a physical object and can easily underline essential aspects of the product by showing a physical version. 

Prototypes can be used in many different industries. Still, in some, they are more common than in others. For example, in healthcare, prototypes are often used to create teh perfect product, and also, in the consumer goods industry, manufacturing prototypes appear quite regular. Also, in the industrial manufacturing industry, prototypes are used within the product development process. 

Advantages of Rapid prototyping - 3D printing as an asset for Prototyping

But where is the difference between just prototyping and rapid prototyping? When 3D printing is involved in producing a prototype, it is called rapid prototyping. And rapid prototyping is becoming more and more popular. That is because additive manufacturing offers excellent possibilities for the prototyping process. It is faster, allows for quick iterations, has short lead times, and is cost-effective.

  • Cost-effectiveness

Prototyping in itself is a way to hold development costs relatively low. The whole reason for working with prototypes is to test if the idea works before production begins to prevent the worst-case scenario of creating unuseful products – wasting time and money. However, 3D printing can enhance the costs of creating prototypes even further. Rapid prototyping reduces the design and time development, which leads to a reduction in the overall development costs. The good thing about 3D printing is that it does not cost more to create just one piece of an object, as it is the case for many other traditional manufacturing technologies. This leads to another advantage of 3D printing as a prototyping manufacturing technique –  many iterations. 

  • Many iterations 

While designing a new product, more than one prototype is often needed – further information and feedback must be tested. Therefore, many prototypes are necessary within a product development process. With 3D printing, it is relatively easy to update an existing prototype. When new information are collected, and changes have to be made, the designer can do that within the 3D file and print a new version of the prototype. When traditional production ways are used to create a prototype, a new mold has to be produced for the prototype before the actual one can be made. This holds up the development process and drags it out unnecessarily. By using 3D printing, the model can be sent to the in-house printer or uploaded to an online printing service, which is then printed the prototype and sends it out. 

  • Fast prototyping

Additive manufacturing does not only has the reputation of being fast. In costly development processes like creating a new product, every day that is needed on top to create a product becomes more costly. Thus a fast prototyping or, shall we say, rapid prototyping method is usually the best and most efficient option. This allows you to bring your product or idea faster to the market. 

The goal is to have a functional prototype, but this also includes having an object that is created in the same material that the later product will be produced with. 3D printing offers the option to choose a material such as stainless steel or carbon fiber, which are often used in traditional productions as well. Additive manufacturing can print stainless steel and offer a fast way to get a functional prototype. 

There are many great examples of how businesses can include 3D printing in their prototyping process, such as UWTI, KOOVEA, and HEXADRONE. Are you ready to become the next one? 

Materials for rapid prototyping

As mentioned above, different materials are commonly used for rapid prototyping, such as PLA plastic, TPU, resin, stainless steel, carbon fiber, material which is flame retardant, and Nylon. So let’s take a look at which material fits best with which needs. 

  • PLA Plastic 

PLA is also called polylactic and is a vegetable-based plastic material. PLA filament is an affordable and versatile plastic. It can be used not only for prototypes but also for pattern-making, tooling, or end-use parts.  PLA filaments can be printed on FDM printers. Objects printed with PLA plastic are hard. 

  • TPU 

TPU is a Thermoplastic Polyurethane material. It can be printed on SLS printers as well as HP Jet Fusion printers. TPU impresses by being a resistant, flexible, and rubbery material. With good resilience after deformation and high UV stability. By creating an interesting structural design, parts can be 3D printed for various applications, from the automotive to footwear industries. The material also provides good hydrolysis resistance, great shock absorption, and a smooth white surface.

  • Resin 

Resin offers excellent options for prototyping. At Sculpteo, we provide an extra resin just for prototyping. The object is made using Stereolithography technology and can create highly detailed parts and non-functional prototypes. Any industry can use Prototyping Resin to create realistic prototypes. With their smooth surface finish, the parts are quite similar to injection molding parts. Prototyping Resin will be the perfect choice for manufacturing concept models, prototypes, or art models. Due to its low impact strength and low elongation at break, this resin is not adapted for production and functional prototyping.

  • Stainless Steel 

Stainless steel can be 3D printed and is ideal for rapid functional prototyping. It is printed with a Binder Jetting and has strong resistance against corrosion and high-temperature resistance. The surface of the raw stainless steel is granular and slightly porous. The polished version is smoother. However,  the layers can still be visible on rounded surfaces. The steel prototype can be painted, welded, powder coated, drilled, and tapped.

  • Carbon Fiber 

When it comes to carbon fiber, it is essential to know that it is a filament with a degree of carbon fiber. Carbon fiber itself is not printable. But even though it is not 100% straight, the filaments still have important properties like stiffness and increased strength. It also offers a good surface finish and is light. 

  • Flame-Retardant Filaments 

When an object is printed with flame-retardant filament, it is safer in a fire and does not quickly burn like other 3D printing materials. This is also often a key opponent for real-life products, so it is important to have a prototype that offers the same properties. Filaments like ABS, PC/ABS, or glass-filled Nylon have heat resistant properties. 

  • Nylon PA12

Nylon PA12 is a powder material known for its high precision and low costs. Its low concentration of amides gives it little moisture absorption, which implies good chemical resistance. The technical properties of this material also depend on the thickness of the created 3D model. Unpolished, it is white, granular, and somewhat porous when directly coming out of an industrial 3D printer. 

Let's start prototyping together!

3D printing is a great asset for a product development process. It is fast, easy to iterate, and cost-effective. However, the investment in buying a 3D printer usually discourages many companies. If you still want to rapid prototype, Sculpteo is here to help. As a strong partner at your site, we will print the prototypes with the selected material and ship them to you. If there are questions concerning the 3D file, our expert team within the Sculpteo Design Studio is happy to help. 

If you need help or support on any step of your 3D printing journey, we are here to help. Our expert team can answer your questions, and if you have a 3D file ready to print, you can simply upload it onto the Sculpteo page, and we will do the rest. 

If you want to learn more about 3D printing, we encourage you to subscribe to our newsletter and check out our extensive Learning Hub with many interesting articles. 

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