Let us check into Wikipedia first. According to Wikipedia, rapid prototyping is treated as a group of techniques used to quickly fabricate a physical part or assembly using three-dimensional CAD data.
That being said, we use a quick way to build a physical part based on our design, we call such part to be a rapid Prototyping.
Once we go further, there are two more meanings to this.
First, we need it to be rapid, not slow. Normally, we count it with days, not weeks.
That being said, it is not allowed to use a normal manufacturing way for a prototype. For instance, the tooling injection way is ok for prototype build, but this manufacturing way takes weeks as we have to work out tooling first. In another word, we have to try to avoid a tool for prototype build. Therefore, the two normal ways of the rapid prototype are CNC machining and 3d printing.
Next, we have to understand that it is just a prototype, not a real product.
In some cases, the prototype can not be made to be as strong as a real product due to manufacturing reasons. For example, the part can be pretty weak if we use 3d printing manufacturing.
What Is The Reason We Use Rapid Prototyping Parts?
1. Explore And Test Design Concepts Quickly
When you want to design a creative product, we always need to test a lot of ideas quickly.
Luckily, the prototype is perfectly a good way to test and validate your ideas. As the prototype is close to your ideal product with all the features of the product and interaction, it gives such a quick way for the designer to go over virtual visualization closely and detailly.
In a word, it can help designers to finalize the best concept quickly.
2. Test A Full Range Of Designs And Verify The Design
Once the ID is finalized, we need to verify the whole mechanical design, usability, and overall function.
With rapid prototyping manufacturing way, we can build a sample close to real products at a quick time, includes all the geometry features and finishes.
By having such a prototype on hand, the engineer can have a full test on it. They can pare down their design to the simplest form necessary to the function of the part, refine and improve their designs.
3. Save Time And Cost
As we mentioned above, rapid prototyping allows engineers to thoroughly test prototypes. By having this step, a lot of manufacturability risk problem can be picked out before running into mass production. As a result, it can help companies to avoid costly design revisions and tooling changes.
As we know, a tooling modification normally takes a long lead time and high cost. However, we might have more chances to avoid design changes issue if we have prototype progress.
Lastly, it does not need tooling for the prototype. Therefore, the prototype is the best cost-saving way for part production.
We need to know that the current manufacturing is asking for more flexibility from design to production. By having rapid prototyping, it is possible to make it happen in a cost-saving way.