Rapid Prototyping is no longer confined to one-off parts, expanding into Direct Digital Manufacturing, and the capabilities of rapid prototyping technologies — like FDM — are rapidly expanding this once specialised industry.
Simon Bartlett, senior engineer at RapidPro works first hand at RedEye On Demand's Australasian build centre.
"Fused Deposition Modelling was originally popular with the prototyping sector for custom one-offs, but that is just the tip of the iceberg," Bartlett said.
"FDM technologies can be used for injection moulding, bridge tooling, paper pulp tooling, blow moulding, Direct Digital Manufacturing, jigs and fixtures, 'Go or No-Go' gauges and fully functional parts."
FDM is used when accuracy is paramount, and with large build platforms, repeatable, accurate build software and hardware as well as a broad range of thermoplastic materials, low volume manufacturing is now even more attainable with parts being produced in end use materials.
"Each prototyping and manufacturing technology has its merits, just as they all have their downfalls. Finding the right process for each project is about balancing the needs and requirements of the part.
"Is surface finish more important than accuracy? Is functionality paramount of should the part be full colour for form studies? There is a balance that needs to be found and this helps to select the right process and material."
An Australian owned and operated manufacturing service bureau, RapidPro offers access to all digital manufacturing technologies to ensure the right process is found for each project, large or small.
"Over-moulding is another exciting growth area for us," Bartlett said.
"We can digitally manufacture parts and products in one build with varying shore hardness and materials. In one build we can produce a thermoplastic-like part, over-moulded with rubber-like features.
"Connex digital material technology also allows us to build transparent parts with coloured internals to represent a real 3D perspective of the internal mechanics of various items, including the human body."
"The evolution of rapid prototyping to production is very exciting, and with new technologies and materials available, we can think beyond just getting parts to market; we can also propel them into production, fulfilling every aspect of a product's lifecycle."