In addition to quality and cost, time to market is becoming an increasingly important factor in a product's success. A major contributor to product development cycles is the time needed to produce prototypes. Further, in markets where customers are demanding individually tailored components, the cost and time to produce tools or moulds can be considerable.
Benefits of Rapid Prototyping
Rapid Prototyping (RP), also known as Solid Freeform Fabrication (SFF) builds complex shapes through additive processes, producing components without the use of tools. Over recent years, many studies have demonstrated the potential benefits offered:
• Manufacture of components without special tools
• Competitive costs for producing small quantities of parts
• Ability to vary composition within the part producing tailored properties through the component volume
• Production of component geometries that cannot be made by traditional fabrication techniques
At present SFF processes are not fully developed for industrial application, as they are relatively slow, typically taking a day to produce a component. However, they have been shown to be effective in reducing the lead-time and high cost of producing ceramic prototypes, making unique or short run ceramic products attainable markets. In the future, researchers believe that SFF techniques will be used for high volume manufacture of ceramics once high speed, prototyping machines are developed.
How Do They Work?
SFF processes work in essentially the same way. Starting with a model of the component as a Computer Aided Design (CAD) file, software divides the object into a series of thin slices, stacked on top of one another. Using this data, commercial Rapid Prototyping machines slowly and precisely add material, recreating the individual layers and ultimately the component. Thus unlike traditional machining processes which remove excess material, rapid prototyping methods are additive.
Rapid Prototyping Techniques
Most Solid Freeform Fabrication (SFF) techniques are based on existing commercial Rapid Prototyping systems:
• Lamination Modelling
• Ink Jet Methods
• Filament Extrusion
• Laser Fusion
Within these categories, there may exist a number of variants that differ slightly.