Important Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Rapid Prototyping

You probably would have heard about the growing 3D printing technology, penetrating the conventional manufacturing market and redefining the ways products are being developed.

Stories have spread all over the internet in form of videos and articles, showing how easily anyone can print the products simply through CAD modeling and pushing the print button. But, if you are into design and manufacturing, you’re probably guessing that there’s more to it.

And you’re right; there are few important things to know more about the additive manufacturing technology, if you’re seriously planning to develop products through this technology in near future.

Software for Rapid Prototyping

Software technology plays a crucial role in rapid prototyping process, and is constantly evolving to compliment the advancing 3D printing capabilities of the printer. The use of software spans across the 3D printing lifecycle right from sourcing ideas, designing the model and providing formatted data to printers, to monitoring and managing the printing process. It serves as an important link, enabling interfaces between computers and printers to allow entire 3D printing ecosystem to function efficiently.

According to PwC, printing a part require 4 different software to ensure accuracy, reduced cost and quality. Also, special software packages are also required to convert solid geometries to lattice structures along with tools to perform simulations.

The journey from idea to artifact in 3D printing begins with sourcing the model either through rapidly growing 3D libraries or through 3D scanning techniques. This is followed by the design process where an exact 3D model of the product is prepared that will be printed, considering proper dimensions and geometrical accuracies. The next step is to optimize the geometry using software to suit the printing process and reduce material wastage.

Finally, the software is also required to actually print the part and monitor the process to make print runs successful.

CAD Modeling Process

Unlike conventional modeling processes, developing 3D models for rapid prototyping requires a different approach. One of the important things to consider is the resolution of the geometry; too high resolution will consume more time to load and simultaneously print the part. On the contrary, a low-res model would develop prototype with poor quality. Moreover, the geometry to be developed is also material-sensitive.

As an example, products to be printed in plastic would require the dimensions of the holes in the design to be resized, as they would expand or contract during heating and cooling applications. Also, the geometry to be printed has to be thoroughly inspected for any open spaces and must be converted to “watertight”, to avoid errors in printing.

Design Optimization

Design optimization is a key to successful and cost effective utilization of rapid prototyping technique. The purpose of using this advanced manufacturing technology is to reduce development cost and time, and thus, reducing material wastage during printing process remains a vital strategy. This requires the design engineers to understand the process of printing that requires rafts and supports to build the desired structure.

Engineers have to identify a design that uses minimal support material that can also be removed easily once the part gets printed. Also, the design engineer must identify a balance between part density, strength and surface finish, and accordingly choose the material, printing speed and printing technology.

To summarize, Right from sourcing the model, through designing and optimizing to monitoring printing process, the role of software is important across every step in the prototype development. Modeling methods require a good knowledge on the printing process, material to be used and the printing technology adopted.

Moreover, the need to optimize the design and apply lattice structures instead of solid geometry should be considered to reduce material consumption while maintaining the required strength of the product being developed. Successfully implementing rapid prototyping to gain the benefits of cost reduction and faster development schedules require manufacturers and engineers to adopt right processes and software technologies.

As such, 3D printing technology isn’t as easy as it seems. There’s so much more to it than simply creating a CAD model and pushing the print button.

About Author: Gaurang Trivedi is Engineering consultant at TrueCADD. He has applied his engineering expertise across several highly complex and big scale projects, consequently managing to flawlessly deliver as per the client requirements.

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