What Is the Future of Rapid Prototyping?

by Jeremy Wall

Rapid prototyping has been useful for manufacturing companies for over 30 years. Today, rapid machining continues to empower the global rapid product innovation. Developments in 3D printing technology have enhanced the functionality of prototypes beyond the necessary form to finished products. Do you remember the replicator, which allowed the voice-controlled creation of objects? If you are a fan of the famous Star Trek, then your imagination should be running wild to the applications of rapid prototyping and the future of this industry. Here is a detailed rundown of what to expect in the future.

The Future

Rapid prototyping is currently expensive and not as rapid as the name suggests. Scientists are working on implementing faster processes. The main materials used in rapid prototyping processes, (titanium, aluminum, and stainless steel) are not enough for the procedure. Researchers are working on expanding these too.

Secondly, rapid prototyping should be made more tolerant of various temperature variations. This would be perfect if a print head can be used to deposit several materials rather than just one material at a time.

Thirdly, it is projected that the industry for rapid prototyping will reach $8 billion in five years. Talent expirations and affordability will aide this.

Rapid prototyping is also changing the way companies design products. At the core are several products to revolutionize manufacturing. Speed is one such improvement. Rapid prototyping machines are slow by a few standards but way faster than human hands.

In the future, faster computers will be used to control complicated systems. Improved materials will also be used. Reductions in the build time will make rapid machining economical for products.

Increased size capacity is another future development to observe. Currently, rapid prototyping machines are limited to various objects measuring 0.12 meters. Larger parts are built in various sections. They are then joined by hand, to solve this, large prototypes are in the works.

Enhanced accuracy is another future development of rapid machining. Today’s machines are accurate in the x and y plane. They are less in the z-axis. Developments in laser optics should increase accuracy in the three directions.

RP companies are also creating new polymers that will be less susceptible to temperature-induced environments. The introduction of polymeric materials such as ceramics and metals is anticipated because they would allow users to develop functional parts.

Today’s prototypes work well for fit tests. However, they are feeble for function testing. The future anticipates the use of rugged materials that can yield stronger prototypes when subjected to service conditions, and metal is one such material. It will expand the product range that can be manufactured by rapid manufacturing.

Many rapid prototyping labs are working to generate new materials. A good example is the University of Dayton that helps with the development of Helisys to manufacture ceramic matrix composites.

Final Thoughts

The rise of rapid prototyping is spurring progress in conventional subtractive methods. Advances in path planning and numeric control are increasing the accuracy and speed of machining. CNC machining companies are experiencing spindle speeds with fast feed rates that translate to shorter build times. For a few applications, machining will still be useful in the manufacturing process. Rapid prototyping will revolutionize machinery by complementing it.

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