3D printers rapid prototyping

What is Rapid Prototyping & 3D Printing? Benefits & How to

Rapid prototyping sounds great, but where can it be used in the engineering process? The answer may not be wholly surprising at this point: from initial proof-of-concept to final-look-and-feel prototype, rapid prototyping can come into play across the entire process.

Concept Prototypes

The earliest prototypes are often conceptual. Proof-of-concept prototypes serve as physical validation of the ideas that may have emerged as a sketch on a napkin. Taking an idea into the three-dimensional real world is the best way to prove viability. Getting hands-on with a concept model can help your engineering team understand their next steps at the same time as it may encourage management to simply move forward with a project.

These early prototypes are often the roughest, as they are the lowest-risk representations made in the rapid prototyping cycle. These prototypes are made quickly and generally in different materials and colors than later-stage prototypes, much less final designs.

Aesthetic or Industrial Design Prototypes

Once a design is validated in its roughest form, it moves next into an aesthetic or industrial design step. These next prototypes begin to hone in on how the design should look and feel, with the thought process beginning to turn toward usability and functionality -- without necessarily being fully functional quite yet. To ensure a new part will fit into a greater whole, or a new product will fit with your brand’s existing aesthetic or functional line, these prototypes more accurately look like something that is moving toward a final design. These prototypes also enable engineers to consider how exactly to best manufacture the eventual final design.

Especially when working with life-sized, larger designs like furniture, having life-sized prototypes to fit to spaces and users becomes ever more important as designs move through the prototyping cycle. Large-scale 3D printing can bring these large-scale designs to life, allowing for a full iteration to be made and tested in less than the time it would take for a traditional tool to be made. Furniture maker Steelcase experienced this benefit first-hand as they use their large-format BigRep 3D printer to create new furniture designs:

Functional Prototypes

A functional prototype does just that: it functions. These later-stage prototypes are often made of materials similar to what will be used in a final product, to validate that everything will work as intended. Engineers at this stage pay attention to performance: does it fit, does it function, do load-bearing parts bear loads?

Attention must be paid to detail, to how the final part will be manufactured (especially if this will be done in a different process than the prototype; for example, 3D printing a prototype for a part that will ultimately be injection molded) as well as how the final part will be post-processed/finished.

Test Serial Production

Many products bound for the mass market are bound for mass production, and this may mean in a different manufacturing process. While 3D printing may be the right technology for both rapid prototyping and serial production of the final part - consider, for example, cases of mass customization - this will not always be the case.

Prototyping must take into account the eventual manufacturing process to be used, and later-stage prototypes should use the same materials and fit into the appropriate manufacturing parameters as the final parts will be. Consideration for traditional production processes comes more into play here, for example for tooling, jigs and fixtures, or any other necessary implements. Design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) may move toward traditional design for manufacturing (DFM) thinking.

Demonstration or Presentation Model Prototypes

The final look is the final stage in prototyping, the last step before full production begins. At this stage, a prototype should not only feel and operate like the final product, but needs to look like it, too. This prototype can be used for marketing materials while production ramps up, for convincing investors of final viability and feasibility, for final field testing, or for any other demonstration or presentation needs. The goal of rapid prototyping is to reach this stage faster than ever before using conventional prototyping workflows.

Here is Everything you Need to Know

Jul 24, 2020

Fast 3D Prototyping: Rapid prototyping and 3D printing are truly a match made in design heaven!

Rapid prototyping is a common prototyping process used across many industries. Using a 3D printer for prototyping is a smart way to save time and money while also expanding design possibilities. It allows companies to physically conceptualize designs and ideas quickly and at a low cost.

In this article, we’ll dive into how 3D fast prototyping, the rapid prototyping process, and everything else you need to know.

Rapid Prototyping Process

Rapid prototyping is the general term used for the process of quickly creating prototypes and models. This type of prototyping can be done in many different ways and involve several techniques

As its name implies, this style of prototyping allows designers to:

  • Quickly see the functionality
  • Test the effectiveness of a design
  • Compare variations

Traditional prototyping may take a lot of time and materials. On the contrary, the rapid prototyping process typically involves much quicker and more cost-effective methods.

One of the most popular forms of rapid prototyping is through 3D printing. Many industries, including engineering, architecture, and manufacturing, utilize 3D printing in their rapid prototyping processes to speed up their workflows and save money. 

Sometimes the terms rapid prototyping and 3D printing are used interchangeably, which is incorrect. Rapid prototyping is a technique, while 3D printing is one of the technologies that can be used for this technique. While prototyping is a very common use of 3D printers, this technology is also suitable for many other uses and applications. 

The Role of 3D Printing

Using CAD software and a 3D printer, rapid prototyping can be taken to new heights. 3D printing is one of the most common prototyping methods today, simply due to its major benefits. 

On the one hand, one of the largest benefits of using 3D printing for prototyping is its ability to save time and money. It does so, avoiding paying an external manufacturer for every iteration and design. Moreover, 3D printing allows designers to save the waiting time until they see a functional prototype. As a result, they can quickly make changes on the spot.

Depending on the print job, a design can be printed in a matter of minutes or hours. For particularly large models,  leaving the 3D printer on overnight is the best option. It allows you to come back to the office to a fully printed prototype, freeing up space for the next one.

Furthermore, rapid prototyping allows designers to keep their concepts in-house. Therefore, not only speeds up the workflow, but it keeps ideas confidential and secure. 

On the other hand, the most valuable role of 3D rapid prototyping is the ability to test and compare different models or design ideas. This applies when testing both functionality and aesthetics.

We recommend using a more durable filament like PA and TPU or a similar filament to your end-use material. This way, you can test if your design will stand up to important elements or factors, such as certain chemicals or the weather. Similarly, 3D prototyping allows you to physically compare different visual concepts and iterations. 

Applications of 3D Rapid Prototyping

Many industries currently incorporate 3D printing into their rapid prototyping process. 

Architects and product designers can utilize this technology for building models as well as showcasing difficult designs that may not be accurately represented on a screen alone. Engineers and manufacturers can utilize additive manufacturing for functional prototyping. Consequently, this fact will allow them to test different technical aspects of a tool or part.

Students and researchers also benefit from the speed and versatility of 3D prototyping, as demonstrated by Instituto Europeo di Design Barcelona. 

For instance, using 3D printers in class IED Barcelona students can quickly compare different ideas and concepts before settling on a final design. In their very classrooms, they are recreating the real-world effects of using 3D printing for prototyping. 

Final Thoughts

Using 3D printing to speed up your rapid prototyping process will revolutionize your prototyping workflow. The saved costs and time, combined with an easier design testing process, makes additive manufacturing one of the best technologies for prototyping.

Use the tools of the master - give the idea volume, or 3D prototyping today

Evgeny Savelyev

What is conceivable is feasible.
Mao Zedong

More recently, the process of creating a product prototype was incredibly long - up to several weeks, or even months, but no one canceled the progress, and today the technology of rapid prototyping, or 3D printing, allows you to quickly create samples of almost any objects. Such a concept as a digital prototype obtained by designing a 3D model in various CAD systems is no longer surprising to anyone.

The first RP systems ( from English . Rapid Prototyping) appeared in the USA in the early 90s of the last century. These were bulky, complex and very expensive machines, requiring special working conditions and very inconvenient to operate. Technology has evolved, and around 2000 so-called 3D printers began to appear. These RP systems take up less space, can work in a typical office environment, and are much easier to operate.

The general principle of operation of such devices is to build a model by layers. The digital model obtained from 3D-CAD is divided by software into thin flat layers and sent to the printer. The printer builds, or, as they say, grows the model layer by layer until it is completely finished. Thus, from a technological point of view, various RP systems differ mainly in the method of constructing a flat layer, the material used and, of course, the thickness of an individual layer.

It is believed that all RP systems to some extent use additive synthesis technology - the model is obtained by adding individual layers together. From this point of view, machining technology is subtractive, since it removes excess material from the workpiece in order to obtain the final product. This implies one of the main advantages of rapid prototyping systems - the ability to build models with completely arbitrary geometry. We can layer a model of absolutely any shape, and, unlike machining, the time and cost of manufacturing will be determined only by the size of the model, and not by its geometry (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1

Objet printers are ideal for checking product design and construction. Thanks to the 16-micron layer thickness, the prototypes are as close as possible to the computer model, which allows you to really evaluate the designed product. Smooth surfaces, high accuracy (up to several microns), the smallest possible thicknesses of elements make it possible to quickly and easily obtain ideal prototypes of a future product.

Objet Geometries (Israel) was founded in 1998 and, despite its relatively young age, very quickly occupied its niche in the global 3D printer market. The company specializes in the development of 3D printing technologies, the production of printers and consumables for them. The head office of the company is located in Israel - production and research divisions are located there. The company's branches in the USA, Europe and China are engaged in sales and service of equipment, in other industrialized countries the company relies on local partners. Objet has more than 50 patents and patent applications in the field of 3D printing, a quarter of the employees in the company work in R&D, improving technology and developing new printers and materials based on it.

3D printing technology

Imagine that you have developed a 3D model of a new product, such as a TV remote control. To reproduce it, previously you would need to transfer drawings from the CAD system to technologists, then prepare a mold or other equipment for this product - only after that you could create the first prototype of your console. Thanks to modern 3D prototyping technologies, today it is enough to translate the created model into the desired format, and then send it to print, and in a few hours you will receive a finished prototype (Fig. 2). Objet printers use two core technologies developed by the company - PolyJet and PolyJet Matrix. Let's take a closer look at each of these technologies.

Fig. 2

Objet's patented PolyJet technology is laser-free model growth on layers of UV cured acrylic photopolymers (Figure 3). This technology is built on the basis of the latest world achievements in the field of precision mechanics, electronics, photopolymer chemistry and 3D software. A distinctive feature of the technology is the construction of a model from ultra-thin layers with a thickness of only 16 microns. During the construction process, each layer of liquid photopolymer is applied by an array of printheads and instantly cured with UV lamp light. After that, the tray with the model is lowered down by 16 µm and the next layer is applied. To fill the voids, the printer uses an auxiliary support material, which can be easily removed with water after printing.

Fig. 3

Print media comes in sealed cartridges that are as easy to replace as a conventional printer. The printer itself is connected to a conventional computer network, and Objet Studio software with an intuitive user interface is used to prepare the tray for printing and send it to print.

Fig. 4

PolyJet Matrix technology is an evolution of the core PolyJet technology. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it allows the printer to use two base materials when growing models (Fig. 4). Using this technology, the latest Connex 500 printer (Fig. 5) can not only simultaneously print a model from different materials in different parts of it, but also receive new materials on the fly right during the printing process. The Digital Material system allows the designer to specify materials with different mechanical properties, such as hardness and strength, for various model nodes. These materials are obtained by combining two base materials that are found in the printer cartridges. In the process of printing, the printer builds a spatial lattice of two basic materials in the volume of the model, which makes it possible to obtain composites with desired properties. The Connex 500 is currently the only 3D printing solution in the world that allows multiple materials to be used in the same model at the same time. Objet has deservedly received several prestigious awards for technical excellence for this printer.

Fig. 5

If we move from the technology of the device to the issues of its daily operation, then the question arises - what is the scale of the equipment itself, does it require a separate room and maintenance personnel? In this regard, the Objet line of 3D printers is very pleased with the features it offers. Firstly, the devices themselves are comparable in size to an ordinary desk, the 3D model building chamber is isolated, which means that no harmful radiation is emitted from the device, sealed cartridges with material are also located inside the device itself - all this allows you to use this 3D printer in an ordinary office, without allocation of additional premises. The operator sends the model for printing, if necessary, changes the cartridges with material, removes the finished model. During the printing process, operator intervention is not required, the printer can work at night, on weekends and holidays. The process of sending it to print is so simple that any employee can handle it, for example, a designer who created a model in 3D-CAD. The printer software is compatible with any 3D-CAD system in mechanical engineering.

Fig. 6

The range of applications of Objet 3D printers is quite wide, starting with medicine (transplantology and prosthetics, dentistry, maxillofacial surgery (Fig. 6)), design, packaging development, architecture, mechanical engineering and ending with jewelry production (Fig. 7). If we talk about mechanical engineering, we can distinguish the following areas.

Fig. 7

Visualization or conceptual modeling

This is one of the most common uses for any 3D printer. The ability to quickly and easily move from a 3D CAD model to a prototype that you can hold in your hands is hard to overestimate. Thanks to PolyJet technology, you get models with excellent surface quality and fine detail reproduction (Fig. 8). Objet printers can use a variety of materials, ranging from translucent polymer and polypropylene, including matte hard materials in various colors, to elastic materials with a high strain to break ratio. Ready-made prototypes can be easily glued, painted in any color, they can be coated with a thin layer of nickel or chromium by electroplating or vacuum deposition. Transparent material can be dyed in volume. All this allows you to quickly get a prototype that will not differ from the final product not only in appearance, but also to the touch. These capabilities of a 3D printer are widely used for preparing demo samples for customers and exhibiting at exhibitions.

Fig. 8

Assembly test

Due to its excellent model building quality and high accuracy, prototypes grown on Objet 3D printers are very useful for testing the assembly of new products (Fig. 9). The digital model from the computer is sent directly to the printer, the influence of the human factor in the manufacture of the prototype is reduced to zero. Having received a finished model in a few hours, the designer can be sure that if errors are found in it, then these are errors that crept in during development, and not during the manufacture of the prototype.

Fig. 9

Functional testing

This is the testing of prototypes under the same conditions as the final product will operate. Each enterprise sets different testing tasks, so it is very difficult to highlight any common points. In our experience, prototypes grown on Objet printers are successfully tested with various fluids to study hydrodynamic characteristics, blown in a wind tunnel, and in addition, complex antenna prototypes are grown, which are covered with metal, and then their characteristics are measured, etc. This is a very important area for the use of prototypes, which is becoming more and more popular.

Of course, the scope of Objet 3D printers is not limited to the above areas. What if we need a prototype or even a small series of test prototypes made of metal or durable thermoplastic? In this case, we will be helped by related technologies that expand the scope of Objet 3D printers.

Silicone injection molding

This technology has become increasingly popular in recent years. When it is necessary to obtain a small series of castings from plastics, it is often unprofitable to make a metal mold, not to mention the fact that this usually takes a lot of time. In this case, a prototype is made on a 3D printer. According to this prototype, the silicone mold is removed using non-shrinking transparent two-component silicones. After receiving the mold, polyurethane resins are poured into it under vacuum to obtain castings. At present, a very wide range of two-component polyurethane resins is presented on the market, the mechanical and physical-temperature properties of which make it possible to obtain castings that are not inferior in properties to thermoplastics. The high quality of castings is ensured by vacuum degassing of both the mold itself during its manufacture and the castings. The advantage of this technology is the speed and moderate cost of obtaining tooling and the castings themselves. The limiting factor here is the strength of the silicone mold, which is usually enough for 10-20 castings. The high quality of the surface of the master model is very important for this technology, so Objet 3D printers with their prototype quality fit perfectly here (Fig. 10).

Fig. 10

Low Pressure Injection Molding (RIM)

Relatively new technology that is also used for plastic injection molding. In this case, not a master model is made on a 3D printer, but the mold itself, into which two-component polyurethane resins are then poured, which have a curing time of one to two minutes. Due to the short setting time, degassing is not used. The big advantage of this technology is the possibility of using one mold for an almost unlimited number of castings. This makes it possible to use this technology in the interval that occurs between casting into silicone and the use of injection molding machines, that is, in a situation where it is necessary to obtain tens or even hundreds of castings.

Lost wax casting

Classical technology for high quality metal castings. In the 3D-CAD program, the designer develops a mold for casting the product. Then it is grown on a 3D printer. This form is used to obtain waxes - exact copies of the final product from foundry wax (Fig. 11). Such waxes are used to create a ceramic mold - they are usually assembled into a bush, which is dipped several times in a liquid ceramic mixture and sprinkled with sand to build up the mold. The finished mold with wax inside is placed in an oven, where the mold is completely dry and the casting wax melts and flows out of the mold. Metal is poured into the finished ceramic mold, the casting cools down, then the mold is broken and the final product is removed. After that, the sprues are removed, and if necessary, the product is polished.

Fig. 11

Ground casting

Another classic technique for metal castings. In comparison with investment casting, in this case, the accuracy is not so high, but it is possible to cast not only non-ferrous metals with a melting point of 600-800 ° C, but also steel with a melting point of more than 1000 ° C. When using the Objet 3D printer, a master model of the product and a set of inserts are grown on it, a sand mold is formed on them, into which the metal is then poured (Fig. 12). The master model, grown on the printer, is coated with paint to increase scratch resistance, which allows the model to be molded up to a hundred times.

Fig. 12


Of course, it is impossible to cover all aspects of using Objet 3D printers in one article. Therefore, I would like to answer some questions that may arise from readers.

Is it possible, for example, to make plastic windows on the Objet 3D printer?

The technologies used in RP systems in general and in Objet 3D printers in particular are not designed for mass production. Technically, the printer can really grow anything that fits in its working chamber, and what does not fit can be grown in parts and then assembled. But it is economically unprofitable, in the production of serial products, classical technologies are more justified. A 3D printer is beneficial for the production of prototypes or small series or one-of-a-kind items because it does not require pre-production.

It turns out that this is just a beautiful toy, which is absolutely unprofitable to use?

No! This is confirmed by the experience of leading Western companies that occupy leading positions in such industries as automotive, aerospace, electronics, consumer goods, military-industrial complex. When developing new products, they widely use RP-technologies. During its existence, Objet has delivered more than 1,500 pieces of equipment to customers around the world.

Do you have any experience of operating this equipment in Russia?

Of course, but for objective reasons, 3D printers in Russia until recently were much less common than abroad. In recent years, the interest of Russian companies in such equipment has grown markedly. We will definitely devote a separate article to the stories of the successful use of 3D printers in Russia and abroad.

What is the economic sense of using such equipment?

There are four main groups of reasons why the use of Objet 3D printers is cost-effective:

  • reducing the development time for new products;
  • reduction in the number of errors that remained in the product after launching it into a series;
  • improving the quality of new product development;
  • maintaining complete confidentiality of new developments until the launch of the product in a series.

Why do you need to check the assembly on prototypes, because almost all modern 3D-CAD has the function of checking the assembly on a computer 3D model?

Ideally, this is the case. But in real life, as a rule, everything is more complicated. Some components of a new product can be designed not just in different departments and in different 3D-CAD systems, but also at other enterprises. For some components, 3D models may simply not exist. Prototypes grown on Objet 3D printers assemble perfectly not only with each other, but also with parts made using traditional technologies.

We have very large items. Does this mean that Objet is useless for us?

Of course not! As a rule, large products consist of hundreds or thousands of smaller units. For example, no one makes an entire aircraft body on a 3D printer, but individual elements are very often made (Fig. 13).

Fig. 13

In conclusion, I would like to quote the words of Aristotle:

“The good everywhere and everywhere depends on the observance of two conditions: 1) the correct establishment of the ultimate goal of any kind of activity; 2) finding appropriate means leading to the final goal.

Today, with such perfect tools at hand, you can set the most fantastic goals and create the most complex prototypes. And high-tech will help you with this. Objet 3D printers.

CAD and graphics 5`2009

  • 3d model Cad-system rp rapid prototyping objet studio

Rapid prototyping with 3D printing - SKAT3D


Own production facilities for rapid prototyping

Large fleet of professional and industrial 3D printing equipment: OnSint, Picaso3D, Stratasys, Formlabs, Concept Laser

More than 6000 successfully completed prototypes already

Wide range of available technologies and materials Versatility 2.


Extensive experience in prototyping various devices and parts.


If the contract contains a confidentiality clause, you can be sure that this requirement is strictly observed.

Industrial prototyping examples

Our SKAT 3D center offers prototyping of industrial and artistic products, having a large fleet of production equipment to perform tasks: OnSint, Formlabs, Stratasys, Concept Laser, Picaso. For the production of small-scale batches, we use both additive technologies and injection molding of polyurethane into a silicone mold.

What is rapid prototyping used for? The most common case is for the visual and tactile presentation of a product. It is not enough to see an image of a new device or other commercial product on the monitor. You need to print it, feel its real size and shape. The tactile sensations are just as important as the actual live view. The very name "prototype" implies that this is the very first copy, created before that only in electronic form in CAD. For rapid prototyping, professional 3D printers using FDM technology are used, which, depending on the size of the prototype, allow it to be printed in a period from several hours to several days.

Industrial prototyping is widely used to fit the resulting part into the final assembly of a device. It does not matter what it is - a housing for an electronic device, a suspension arm of a car with a generational design, a gear or something else. First you need to try on, otherwise, in the case of placing an order for a large batch, the cost of an error is very high. Moreover, modern methods allow you to quickly create a fully functional part that can be immediately put into a working mechanism. Several technologies are used for industrial prototyping: SLS - layer-by-layer selective laser sintering of polyamide powder in a heat chamber. The resulting parts have the same strength and heat resistance as injection molded nylon parts. SLM - selective laser melting of a powdered metal alloy. Upon completion of printing, we get a finished part made of stainless steel or aluminum that requires minimal post-processing and finishing on a CNC machine. Industrial FDM printing on Stratasys Fortus printers allows you to get prototypes from engineering and structural polymers with high accuracy. Of course, ULTEM PEI-based engineering polymers and PEEK-based (PEKK) filaments deserve special attention, which have outstanding physical characteristics, catching up with metal alloys, but at the same time much lighter.

As an option for the production of prototypes of metal parts by casting in sand, ceramic or plaster molds, we can offer printing of burnt-out models from special wax or burnt-out photopolymer.

For precise prototyping, we have a Form 2 SLA photopolymer printer and a Polyjet photopolymer printer from Stratasys - Objet 500 Connex 3. They allow you to create small prototypes of parts and housings for later fitting.

Technology Equipment Region Layer, micron Accuracy, mm Materials Price (r/cm3)
FDM ind. Stratasys Fortus 450mc 400x400x355 127-254 +-0.10 ASA,ABS
Nylon 12, PC
Ultem 9085
100-350 +-0.15 ABS, PETg, PLA, HIPS
Composites, Nylon, Flex
Ultem 9085
SLA Formlabs Form 2 145x145x175 25-160 +-0.05 Gray 75r/cm3
PolyJet Objet 350 Connex 340x340x200 16-32 +-0.02 Vero Clear
SLS OnSint 200 200x200x200 50-100 +-0.05 PA12 (EOS)
SLM Concept Laser M2 250x250x280 20-80 +-0.

Learn more