Making the Mold: The Technology of Rapid Prototyping

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In the field of product development, speed is the key. The sooner you can roll out a new product to the market, the better your chances are for capturing that particular market. During the course of product development, you will often need to produce a prototype whether for reliability testing of the product, or for an exhibit or proof of concept presentation. For such situations, there is no more reliable, affordable, and faster technology available today than rapid prototyping.

What is Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid prototyping refers to a group of techniques that have revolutionized the field of product development. Through the use of additive manufacturing technology, rapid prototyping produces scale models of products using a combination of 3D printing technology and 3D computer-aided design (CAD) data. Rapid prototyping refers to a group of manufacturing methods but 3D printing is most commonly associated with the word. It is a field that has grown rapidly in the last couple of years, spurred by lower costs, advances in technology, and new industrial and commercial applications.

The whole process of rapid prototyping starts with the 3D design data produced using CAD software. The 3D model is divided into thousands of very thin cross-sections, and the data is fed to the 3D printing machine. The 3D printing machine builds the object layer by layer starting from the bottom, according to the cross sections generated by the software (thus being an ‘additive technology’). Optional cleaning and finishing of the surface of the model can be done. Materials used for rapid prototyping are commonly polymers, thermoplastics, metal powders, and ceramic powders.

Rapid prototyping has also been referred to using other terms, such as solid free-form manufacturing, computer automated manufacturing, and layered manufacturing.

Who uses Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid prototyping has become the method of choice for the initial stages of product development. This technology has allowed for faster production of models for the proof of concept stage, up until the functional stage and dimensional verification. Rapid prototyping has even been used to create initial runs of products for performance and reliability testing. Quick but accurate models for exhibition or market study purposes have also been manufactured using rapid prototyping.

The technology of rapid prototyping has seen wide use in a lot of industries. In the automotive industry, rapid prototyping has been used to manufacture car parts in low volumes for mechanical performance testing or for market and customer evaluation. From internal parts to external lighting components, rapid prototyping has the ability to produce high-quality automotive parts.

Owing to the highly precise models created using rapid prototyping, parts used for medical equipment have also been manufactured. Small handheld components, anatomical models, parts for diagnostic and treatment equipment, surgical tools, ultrasonic and laser equipment, and prostheses have all been produced using rapid prototyping.

For applications closer to home, rapid prototyping has been used to manufacture parts for household and office appliances, such as computers, TV sets, air-conditioning units, mobile phones, and coffee makers. The consumer market is a particularly competitive field, and manufacturers have frequently turned to rapid prototyping for their marketing and manufacturing needs.

Why has it become so popular?

Rapid prototyping has become a quick and cost-effective way of producing initial prototypes. Instead of spending several days to produce a scale model of any item, rapid prototyping has allowed for the manufacture of the same item within just a couple of hours. The use of modern prototyping technology has also significantly cut down on the labor needed to produce such prototypes.

The technology of rapid prototyping has effectively rendered moot the concept of economies of scale when it comes to prototype production. Today, small volume production has become more affordable because of rapid prototyping.

Product developers strongly prefer rapid prototyping as it allows them to convert ideas to concrete objects faster, giving them earlier access to the market and a huge head-start in gaining market traction. In the field of product development, any technology that allows developers to bridge the gap between idea and production is considered revolutionary.

Another advantage of rapid prototyping is its ability to bring to life very intricate and detailed designs. It is capable of producing parts with complex geometry and very small internal cavities. With the use of 3D data, product developers can be assured of highly accurate prototypes. Moreover, designs can be easily manipulated and improved, and changes to the initial design can make their way to the physical space much faster.

Wayken Rapid Manufacturing: High-Quality Rapid Prototyping Services

Wayken offers a top-notch and diverse array of services in rapid prototyping. Their products have been used in a variety of industries with industrial, medical, product development, and automotive applications. The company is supported by a team of competent engineering staff, machine shop professionals, and sales staff, making them one of the most competitive and trusted prototype manufacturers.

Wayken employs the latest in prototyping technology, allowing the company to offer a diverse set of prototyping services for a variety of industrial needs. The services that Wayken offers are as follows:

  1. CNC Machining – Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining is an optimal and rapid process for producing one-off parts from a variety of block materials. Wayken promises highly accurate output, high quality CNC materials, and a fast turnaround rate. They are equipped with more than 10 high-efficiency and high-precision CNC machining centers, manned by experienced and very skilled manpower.CNC products can be machined from a variety of materials, including thermoplastic (ABS, PP, PMMA, PA, etc.), resins (Bakelite), or metals (aluminum, brass, copper, etc.). CNC allows for models that do not compromise on the desired starting material. Wayken also offers a variety of post-finishing processes – hand polishing, vapor polishing, sand blasting, brush finishing, chrome plating, electroplating, anodizing, painting, and printing – to deliver to its customers an impeccably finished CNC model.
  1. SLA and SLS – Wayken applies the latest additive printing technology in stereo lithography (SLA) and selective laser sintering (SLS) to produce highly accurate models while meeting the stringent demands of quality and time. Both SLA and SLS methods are particularly appropriate for creating high precision parts. SLA uses an epoxy resin as its starting material, and the method is commonly used to create master molds that are more accurate but also less sturdy. SLS uses a polyamide material to create products that are more robust and functional, and have good resistance against heat, chemicals, abrasions, and normal wear and tear.
  2. Rapid Injection Molding – If you need to produce your parts fast, Wayken offers rapid injection molding technology to produce low volume prototypes quickly and at a fraction of the cost of other prototype molding technologies. By using material such as soft steel or aluminum, rapid tooling produces molds that can be machined and polished faster, cutting on lead times, and are lightweight for easier handling. As for molding the actual product, Wayken offers more than 200 molding materials which can be mixed and combined to produce a highly customized output.
  3. Urethane Vacuum Casting – Wayken’s technique for Urethane Vacuum Casting eliminates the need for expensive metal molds by using a Silicone Rubber Mold made from CNC machining or SLA. Their technology can produce high-precision products using either HEI-CAST from Japan or AXSON from France, both of which have exhibited high impact and high temperature resistance. Customers can specific their desired color of the products, and even whether the surface finish should be matte or glossy.
  4. Clear Optical Prototyping – Wayken has expertise on the production of clear prototypes using acrylic or polycarbonate materials. Their prototyping technology and process allows for the highly detailed models without scratches and blemishes. Wayken has particularly specialized in the field of automotive lighting parts, producing prototypes of headlight, fog lamps, and lamp lenses.
  5. Prototype Finishing and Painting – Wayken strives for perfection in all their products, so they offer a diverse set of options for product finishing and painting. Their Sanding and Polishing techniques allow for the removal of imperfections (burrs, machine lines, and adhesive marks), while also providing a variety of finishes from matte to glossy.

Wayken also has a dust-free painting facility to ensure impeccably painted prototypes, with paints that not only deliver colors as required by the customer but also have UV-protection and water-resistance capabilities.

Wayken also offers a variety of surface treatments, including anodizing, electroplating, chemical plating, powder coating, laser etching, and clear chemical film. These treatment options are available for both plastic and metal prototypes, whether as visual accents or as functional components.

The Final Word

If you work in the product development field, Rapid Prototyping is an invaluable tool in creating highly precise models. With today’s technology, high quality prototypes can be manufactured very quickly and inexpensively. Wayken is one of the companies that offer such services, and they employ very skilled personnel and industry-tested technology to deliver highly diverse prototyping services for any number of industrial uses.

Warning; 3D printers should never be left unattended. They can pose a firesafety hazard.