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Rapid prototyping is the automatic construction of physical objects using solid freeform fabrication. The first techniques for rapid prototyping became available in the late 1980s and were used to produce models and prototype parts. Today they are used for a much wider range of applications and are even used to manufacture production quality parts in relatively small numbers. !ome sculptors use the technology to produce comple" shapes for fine arts exhibitions. Rapid prototyping ta#es virtual designs from computer aided design $%&'( or animation modeling software transforms them into thin virtual hori)ontal cross*sections and then creates each cross*section in physical space one after the ne"t until the model is finished. +n this process the virtual model and the physical model correspond almost identically. ,ith additive fabrication the machine reads in data from a %&' drawing and lays down successive layers of liquid powder or sheet material and in this way builds up the model from a series of cross sections. These layers which correspond to the virtual cross section from the %&' model are joined together or fused automatically to create the final shape. The primary advantage to additive fabrication is its ability to create almost any shape or geometric feature.

The standard data interface between %&' software and the machines is the !T- file format. &n !T- file appro"imates the shape of a part or assembly using triangular facets. !maller facets produce a higher quality surface. The word .rapid. is relative/ construction of a model with contemporary methods can ta#e from several hours to several days depending on the method used and the si)e and comple"ity of the model. &dditive systems for rapid prototyping can typically produce models in a few hours although it can vary widely depending on the type of machine being used and the si)e and number of models being produced simultaneously. !ome solid freeform fabrication techniques use two materials in the course of constructing parts. The first material is the part material and the second is the support material $to support overhanging features during construction(. The support material is later removed by heat or dissolved away with a solvent or water.

Traditional injection molding can be less e"pensive for manufacturing polymer products in high quantities but additive fabrication can be faster and less e"pensive when producing relatively small quantities of parts. Rapid prototyping is now entering the field of rapid manufacturing and it is believed by many e"perts that this is a .ne"t level. technology.

The Audi RSQ was made by &udi with rapid prototyping industrial KUKA robots

Quick Prototype Design &


The quic#er a prototype can be developed the sooner it can be used for demonstrations internal or customer evaluation to prove out certain performance characteristics such as battery life help raise venture capital be appraised for manufactured cost or for determining if it ma#es sense to commit the resources required to fully fund a complete product development cycle. Quick Start for Rapid Prototyping !tereolithography photochemical machining laser sintering and laminated*object manufacturing use 0' %&' data to produce models in hours. 1ost of these processes ma#e parts from plastic. 1odels can be built from layers of liquid plastic fused from plastic powders or cut from partially cured polymer. Though large manufacturers increasingly have rapid*prototyping capabilities in house smaller firms generally wor# with service bureaus to obtain fast prototyping. 2ere are some things to #eep in mind when wor#ing these outside vendors. !AD dra"ings# ,hat you send the service bureau 3' drawings %&' files or !T- files determines the amount you pay in up*front processing costs. &nd these costs could vary dramatically depending on the %&' program the bureau uses to ma#e your data machine ready. 4or e"ample sending only 3' drawings of a part to be fabricated forces the service bureau to create the solid model from the prints. 4or relatively simple parts it will probably ta#e about as long to create a solid model with one %&' program as it would with another. 5ut the situation changes dramatically as parts become more and more comple". !ome %&' programs are just faster to wor# with than others. 4eature*based or variational geometry modelers such as 6ro78ngineer can usually generate models much more quic#ly than modelers based on 5oolean operators. The difference in modeling time becomes more

pronounced in complicated models that incorporate features such as sculpted surfaces numerous bends and radii and so forth. 1ost service bureaus charge by the hour to create a solid model from prints. !o the longer it ta#es them to create a model from drawings the higher the cost. 1edium*comple"ity parts might ta#e eight to 13 hr of %&' time. !imple parts from a half*hour to a few hours. Surface models# 1any surface modelers generate !T- files. 5ut for the few surface or wire* frame modelers that can9t generate !T- files the service bureau often ends up creating a solid model from scratch even when provided with a perfectly good surface model on dis#. !tarting from scratch is often easier than converting a surface model into a compatible format and ma#ing the necessary modifications. Solid models# ,hen a customer sends a solid model that has not been generated with the same brand of %&' program as used by the service bureau there must be a conversion into a compatible format through an +:8! transfer. The conversion process tends to be imperfect. The service bureau will still be forced to clean up the solid model before generating the !Tfile for fabrication instructions. This cleaning*up process typically involves adding features that sometimes get lost in the +:8! translation such as surface normals or information about certain #inds of radii. Thus it is good to as# the service bureau how cleanly it has been able to translate models generated by the %&' software used to generate the math models they will receive. S$% files# !T- files created by most major %&' systems e"ecute without any glitches. & few off*brand %&' programs do indeed create !T- files that have problems however. These problems typically consist of gaps on surfaces or areas where the fabrication software cannot identify the surface. ,hen this happens the service bureau typically goes bac# into the model and patches up these areas then recreates the !T- file. &olds# 1ost R6 parts made today are prototypes of molded components. 6arts in this category are best fabricated by service bureaus that also have some e"perience in molding. 1ost do. R6 bureaus with molding e"perience can often provide advice about design factors such as adding drafting to the part. +f the original model doesn9t have draft a sufficiently e"perienced bureau often can add this to the model. +f one area of the part has particularly tight tolerances they can also ta#e this into consideration when they build the prototype by adjusting factors such as part orientation during the build or the shrin# rate of the material. !ervice bureaus generally shoot for a tolerance of ;< mil7in. of part but they sometimes can get this down to 1 to 0 mil7in. for special features. &achining# & service bureau that has e"perience with machining will be able to give advice about the trade*offs for either machining prototype parts or building them stereolithographically or with some other R6 technology. -arge part si)e and simplicity generally dictate a machined approach. Pricing# 6rice*wise parts small enough to fit in your hand should cost between =<00 to =1 000 depending on the up*front processing needed. & part that fits in a 1*in. cube would

normally be in the =300 to =000 range. 4or something inside a >*in. cube figure up to =1 <00. 4or RT? molds a single*sided mold with a flat bottom might cost between =300 to =000. That figure would rise for medium comple"ity parts to =@00 to =1 000. S$'R'(%)$*(+RAP*, Stereolithography -S%A. is a /rapid0prototyping/ process "hich produces a physical1 three dimensional ob2ect from a 3D !AD file4 & stereolithography machine uses a computer controlled laser to cure a photo*sensitive resin layer by layer to create the 0' part. 6roducing a pre*production !-& prototype of a part can greatly enhance the conceptuali)ation of a product as well as communication between project team members. !tereolithography is fast allowing prototypes to be made in a matter of days A the comple"ity of the model is seldom a factor. !-& is really /Rapid &odeling/ since the objects generated from e"isting photo*sensitive resins or photopolymers do not have the physical mechanical or thermal properties typically required of end use production material.