RP is an automatic process for manufacturing parts, prototypes, tools and even assemblies directly from their CAD models without the use of any cutters, tools or fixtures specific to the geometry of the object and without any human intervention anywhere in the process. A RP machine is a CNC machine with an embedded CAPP system for additive manufacturing. RP is also a “divide-and-conquer” manufacturing strategy in which a complex 3D manufacturing problem is converted into several 2D manufacturing problems which could be automated. The following are the benefits of RP:
- Rapid prototypes act as concept models for better visualization and communication.
- Marketing personnel can use rapid prototypes to assess the aesthetic appeal of the product by displaying them in showrooms.
- Rapid prototypes can be used for form, fit and functional tests.
- Transparent rapid prototypes obtained from photo-polymers are ideal specimens for stress analysis using photo-elasticity.
- Rapid prototypes can be used for wind tunnel tests.
- Assemblies can be made without joints using RP. It can make parts impossible by other manufacturing methods.
- Rapid prototypes can be sent along with the inquiries; RP models can be submitted along with the quotations.
- There are important medical applications of RP&T in conjunction with Reverse Engineering
- Rapid Tooling cuts down product ionizing time and hence sharpens the competitive edge of the organization.
- RP emerging into Rapid Manufacturing is possible in some applications.
- With an integrated approach, RP&T can shorten time to market.
Although RP&T could make the prototypes only out of proprietary non-metallic materials and the accuracy and surface finish are not adequate, direct and indirect methods are emerging to overcome these limitations. Hybrid technologies which exploit the best features of CNC and RP are also emerging. These efforts will shortly enable making objects rapidly from their CAD models automatically out of the required material with the specified quality.
The huge investments on such RP machines as well as the high cost of these prototypes can be amortized better if the same technology is able to produce tools through direct or indirect routes. It may be noted that processes like Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and 3D Printing (3DP) are capable of producing prototypes from a wide variety of materials right from wax or polystyrene to metals. When the same technology can be extended for manufacturing parts in small batches, then it will be called Rapid Manufacturing (RM).