- Product Development
- Quality Assurance
The global rapid prototyping materials market was valued at USD 0.2 billion in 2015 and is projected to reach USD 0.9 billion by 2021, at a CAGR of 26.8% from 2016 to 2021.
Source: Markets and Markets
The global rapid prototyping market is expected to reach USD 6.5 billion by 2026. The market is projected to expand at a CAGR of 12.91% during the forecast period from 2018 to 2026.
Source: Transparency Market Research
What are the business advantages of rapid prototyping for companies?
Rapid prototyping provides engineering, design and development teams with distinct advantages over traditional prototyping. Several key advantages include:
- Rapid prototyping provides the ability to explore and realize concepts more quickly. Time and cost efficiency allows teams to move beyond visualization of a product early in the design process, making it easier to grasp the properties and design of a product. A 3D printed prototype can typically be completed in less than one day, whereas ordering a prototype from a supplier often takes several weeks.
- Designs can be iterated quickly, with changes incorporated to allow for the evaluation and testing of alternatives designs. The iterative process provides a roadmap to developing and refining the final product.
- Concepts can be communicated concisely and effectively because rapid prototyping changes concepts from flat, 2D visuals to hands-on 3D products that clients, colleagues, and collaborators can test.
- Concepts can be thoroughly tested and refined to minimize costly design flaws with a small volume rapid prototype run.
- Rapid prototyping saves time and money since production setup and tooling are not necessary. The same equipment can be used to produce prototypes with different properties and materials. The costs and time outlay are determined by the form not by the number of variations.
What industries are using 3D printing rapid prototyping?
3D printing prototyping can be applied to virtually any industry that builds physical products or assets. However, workflows and design goals differ between industries. Here are three examples:
- Architecture firms use 3D printed prototypes routinely as a cost-effective tool to demonstrate artistic, social and functional properties of projects to their customers and partners.
- Automotive engineering teams were pioneers of the use of rapid prototyping to product geometrically accurate models of new vehicle concepts.
The aerospace industry uses 3D printing solutions to solve design challenges before committing to expensive, time-consuming tooling. It is increasingly common to combine 3D printing with machine learning to seek solutions to design problems that minimize weight or integrate multiple components into a single component to reduce complexity.
What 3D printing technologies are used rapid prototyping?
The most common 3D printing technology by the number of users is fused deposit modeling (FDM). The advantage of FDM is that it uses durable materials with mechanical properties that are stable over time. The production-grade thermoplastic materials used in FDM are suitable for detailed functional prototypes, durable manufacturing tools, and low-volume manufacturing parts.
FDM begins with a software process which processes a STereoLithography file format (STL file), mathematically slicing and orienting the model for the build process. If required, support structures are generated. The machine can dispense multiple materials to achieve different goals. It uses one material to build up the model and a second material as a soluble support structure. FDM can also print in multiple colors of the same type of thermoplastic on the same model.
What business challenges could impact the adoption of rapid prototyping with 3D printing systems?
Prototyping is the earliest and most common use case for 3D printing technology. It makes business sense for an increasingly broad number of industries. Nonetheless, there are several adoption challenges.
- The initial cost of investing in industrial-grade 3D printing equipment can be steep. Over an extended period of time, a 3D printer can easily pay for itself in cost and time savings. However, companies often lack certainty regarding the frequency of use when they consider making the initial investment.
- The lack of diversity in materials presents a barrier for companies that use specialty materials to achieve specific functionality. Plastic is the most common material using in 3D printing prototyping as it is fast, easy, and inexpensive to use. Most 3D printers today use one types of plastic across the product. As a result, the strength of individual parts with specific durability or strength requirements often cannot be tested accurately. Metal 3D printers are now available but are more expensive and challenging to use.
- Accuracy can often be below the threshold required to test parts with precise measurement requirements. In some products, this step is necessary in order for engineers to determine whether or not the part will be usable.
A growing number of service firms provide 3D printing as a service. These firms allow customers to avoid fixed costs and provide the expertise needed to select the right material and optimize the accuracy of the prototype.