Rapid prototyping makes it possible to quickly produce prototypes and models using tooling and materials that have evolved over time to keep pace with changes in industrial demand. With 3D printing, however, it is the technology itself that influences the use of the processes.
Evolving needs for rapid prototyping
Until the 1980s, companies wanted to control their production costs and ensure product performance. It was necessary to test products without expensive tooling, and in a much shorter time than with conventional techniques. In the 1990s, the concept of quality appeared, which required the use of prototypes to validate the quality criteria of the product. Finally, in the 2000s, it became time to market that was important: companies wanted to be the first to launch a new product on the market, which requires an extremely short design development process. All this influenced the development of machines and technologies for producing prototypes more and more rapidly.
With the crisis, the need to control costs has reduced the number of prototypes for the development of a product. However, requests for certification and the need to contextualise and test the products require the use of prototypes. Thus, while the needs vary, they always continue to exist.
A constantly evolving technology
The first stereolithography machines appeared in 1984. This rapid prototyping technology makes it possible to solidify layers of liquid polymer that are sensitive to ultraviolet radiation, by means of laser technology. In the decades that followed, other rapid prototyping technologies emerged, for example fused deposition modeling (FDM) and selective laser sintering. The first ever 3D rapid prototyping system based on FDM technology was introduced in the 1990s. The latest development in rapid prototyping, the 3D printer, was launched in the 2000s.
The 3D printing revolution
While the 3D printer segment is gaining ground on other technologies, this innovation has also led to the popularisation of rapid prototyping in general. Today, more and more industries are seeing the value of using prototypes to validate technical or visual choices. Nevertheless, 3D printing has its limitations, which can make other methods more attractive. Thus, the parts produced with 3D printing are generally of small size and often require post-processing when it is necessary to obtain a visual appearance of quality. As soon as the quantity of parts required increases, it is often more economical to use vacuum duplication or 3D machining.
This proves that the rapid prototyping industry still has some good days ahead of it!