Rapid prototyping is an approach to quickly create large-scale models of parts and finished products using CAD software. Pieces are created primarily using technologies like additive layer manufacturing or 3D printing. It is an innovative practice of developing products. This enables the engineers to reduce design time through faster iterations and provide a final design ready for production. Rapid Prototyping with 3D Printers is an alternative to prototyping CNC machined pieces, as well as PU castings, and injection molded parts.

Rapid Prototyping with 3D Printers

Advantages of Rapid Prototyping with 3D Printers

Let's take a look at the unique benefits of 3D rapid prototyping.


The cost of a 3D printer can be much lower than traditional industrial processes utilized for prototyping, like using CNC machines. In the latter case, there are further costs combined with finding materials, programming tool paths, setting adjustments, starting, and monitoring machine tool operations and even finishing the process. With a 3D printer, a CAD model is sent to the device, which interprets the data and prints it. Then, the finished item can then be removed and is ready for any post-processing such as sandblasting.


Rapid prototyping mainly refers to the pieces produced using additive manufacturing or 3D printing. While some simple items can be produced in less than a week with CNC machining, turning, or sheet metal; 3D molded parts can be manufactured in a broader range of geometries and materials with reduced production time. 3D printers are quick to set-up and take data from 3D CAD models. They do not require any additional data or support like traditional production modes. This way, any model can easily be printed in a few hours.

Test Different Designs

Rapid prototyping allows engineers to test costly and intricate designs in a short time and inexpensively. Moreover, 3D printing enables designers to achieve details that would otherwise be impossible to achieve with CNC machine tools and sheet metal production without the use of specialized tools. Items with thin walls, sharp edges, and areas unreachable with instruments can quickly be generated using the layered production methods utilized in rapid prototyping with 3D printers (hence the term "additive manufacturing").

By creating prototypes of parts with different shapes, engineers can understand the trade-offs amongst functionality and aesthetics when testing prototypes. After testing various prototypes, engineers can reduce the design to the straightforward form required for the part to function.

Test Different Filaments

The choices of 3D printing materials are also extensive; it ranges from nylon 12, used in HP MJF and SLS, which can withstand temperatures above 300°F or 149°C, to Aluminum AlSiMg alloy, which can withstand the high heat and stresses associated with the environment of automotive components. Some 3D printing solutions offer more than 200 options of filaments, finishes, and colors from which you can design customized pieces.

Partial Consolidation.

Rapid prototyping enables testing a single piece that needs to be converted into multiple parts or assemblies when finally produced. Incorporating several machined or manufactured parts into the prototyping operation is cost-effective and allows the engineers to consider further designs and part functionality.

Enhanced Risk Mitigation Measures

The ability to create a prototype design and evaluate it before manufacturing it in an expensive production process or tools mitigates the risks. As 3D solutions are so inexpensive, they can help companies decide whether to radically change the direction of a project or continue to iterate on a prototype project. The financial risk of the companies can be mitigated. Rapid prototyping eliminates much of the monetary and time risks and allows for trial and error.

Types of 3D Rapid Prototyping Technologies

There are several rapid prototyping techniques that manufacturers are currently using. Below is a list of the most current technologies and processes, along with the pros and cons of each technology. The four primary approaches of rapid prototyping are SLA, SLS or SLM, and FDM. Each mode has specific processes and advantages.


SLA or Stereolithography is one of the most common forms of 3D printing. It uses a 3D CAD program to create the shape and the structure of the object. SLA can create highly detailed pieces with a finished surface. Another key advantage of using this approach is that the parts can be produced quickly, usually under a day. As for the downsides to SLA, the size of the printed pieces is limited, and it can be relatively expensive. SLA 3D printing is mostly used for putting features of a new design to the test before mass manufacturing.

Selective laser sintering

SLS or Selective laser sintering was introduced in the mid-1980s, as part of a government initiative. In this method, metallic or plastic powders and granules are combined under pressure and heat. It results in a solid object that can be manufactured. A significant advantage of SLS is that the designers are not restricted to specific design requirements. There is also no need to use particular tools or dyes to produce the part. This balances the cost of using SLS to produce the part. This method is ideal for creating viable prototypes with intricate designs as well as individual sections.

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Fused Deposition Modeling

Like the previous prototyping methods, FDM modeling was introduced in the 1980s. This approach is also well-known and widely used. It uses spools of plastic or metal filament that are layered through the nozzle to create desired objects. This 3D printing solution uses smaller printers and various filaments, which makes the process easier and cheaper. Although the extruders can limit design details, the flexibility of using different types of printing materials increases the diversity of design possibilities. Although it is not currently possible to produce large quantities of parts using this process, FDM rapid prototyping makes it feasible to produce parts quickly and economically in small quantities.

Selective Laser Melting

SLM or Selective Laser Melting uses CAD models, and the object is printed with 2D metal layers, which are then sintered and welded to produce a completely dense piece. This additive manufacturing technique allows the rapid and efficient creation of complex internal structures and surfaces, reducing weight and increasing strength. SLM is widely used in the automotive, aerospace, and medical sectors.

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