What is Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid Prototyping (RP) enables the quick fabrication of physical models using three-dimensional computer aided design (CAD) data. Used in a wide range of industries, Rapid prototyping allows companies to turn innovative ideas into successful end products rapidly and efficiently.

Rapid Prototyping techniques offer multiple benefits, such as:

  • Fast and effective communication of design ideas
  • Effective validation of design fit, form, and function
  • Greater design flexibility, with the ability to run quickly through multiple design iterations
  • Fewer production design flaws and better end-products!


Rapid Prototyping — A Quick History

Rapid prototyping systems emerged in 1987 with the introduction of stereolithography technology, a process that solidifies layers of ultraviolet light-sensitive liquid polymer using laser technology. In subsequent years, other rapid prototyping technologies were introduced, such as: Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Selective Laser Sintering and Laminated Object Manufacturing. The industry’s very first 3D rapid prototyping system based on FDM Technology was introduced in April, 1992, by Stratasys. The first 3D rapid prototyping systems based on PolyJet technology were introduced by Objet in April, 2000.

How does Rapid Prototyping Work?

Rapid Prototyping, also known as 3D printing, is an additive manufacturing technology. The process begins with taking a virtual design from modeling or computer aided design (CAD) software. The 3D printing machine reads the data from the CAD drawing and lays down successive layers of liquid, powder, or sheet material — building up the physical model from a series of cross sections. These layers, which correspond to the virtual cross section from the CAD model, are automatically joined together to create the final shape.

Rapid Prototyping uses a standard data interface, implemented as the STL file format, to translate from the CAD software to the 3D prototyping machine. The STL file approximates the shape of a part or assembly using triangular facets.

Typically, Rapid Prototyping systems can produce 3D models within a few hours. Yet, this can vary widely, depending on the type of machine being used and the size and number of models being produced.