What is Rapid Prototyping? [Definition and Examples]

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rapid prototyping

Rapid prototyping creates these physical prototypes (web or any app) using computer-aided design (CAD). You can use rapid 3d prototyping at any step of your product development process and repeat it as many times as possible. 

What Is Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid prototyping definition

“As the name implies, rapid prototyping is a process of creating a prototype rapidly to evaluate the features or some part of the product.”

Rapid prototyping is a strategy agile teams employ throughout the product development process. 

In this approach, you can create three-dimensional prototypes of a product. Subsequently, to gather user feedback, you test them to optimize superficial characteristics such as shape, size, and overall usability. 

You can create various prototypes during the development process with some changes here and there to pinpoint where the product may need further work accurately.

Rapid prototyping allows for product simulations during the testing and the development phase. The term ‘rapid’ relates to how a development team gathers user feedback and analyzes it. Multiple iterations are generated in a short period based on this data.

This rapid speed of tests and analysis prevents the teams from going too far with a feature or an idea that fails to align with the user’s needs and does not solve their problem.

Another vital fact to consider is that when a prototype interacts with a user, the user must feel that it is a finished product (of course, this might not be the case). Otherwise, a bias may creep into the user’s judgment, rendering the whole activity useless.

Rapid Prototyping

History of Rapid Prototyping

When the rapid prototyping process was not invented, companies made the prototypes from hooks and wires. The measurement was not accurate either. Research and development were challenging before the 1970s.

Henryson and the team made the USDS or UNIX circuit design system at the bell labs. That laid the foundation for rapid prototyping, and it also evolved with time. 

They discovered topography, photopolymers, and photo sculpturing in the coming year.

Charles Hull created the history of rapid prototyping with the development of CAD or computer-aided design. CAD later became rapid prototyping. With advancements in technology, 3D modeling is evolving for the better. 

What Are the Different Types of Rapid Prototyping?

There are a total of eight different types of rapid prototyping. Let’s have a look at each of them.

Selective Laser Sintering Technique (SLS) 

SLS is mainly used for plastic and metal prototypes. A powder bed is used to create a prototype. Layer by layer is added using laser and heat to solidify the material.

The downside of SLS is that the finishing is not that good and hence requires more work. 

Stereolithography (SLA) Or VAT Photopolymerization Technique

This type of rapid 3d prototyping is quick and affordable too. It is used for 3D printing. SLA uses photosensitive liquid and then solidifies it with the help of UV light, which is computer-controlled.

Selective Laser Melting (SLM) Or Powder Bed Fusion

SLM is used to produce complex parts of a model. This type of rapid prototyping is used in the aerospace, defense, automotive, and medical fields. 

You build the prototype using a metal powder used layer by layer. Some of the materials used are titanium, aluminum, steel, and alloys. 

Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) Or Material Jetting

This product development process is cheap and gradually improves into a better system. Here thermoplastic filament is melted in the barrel of the printing nozzle. The plastic liquid is then collected layer by layer as per the computer devised program. 

Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM) Or Sheet Lamination

Sheet lamination takes place in a controlled environment. CAD design is created with thin laminates cut by laser beams. Layer on layer is bonded till the model is at the completion stage. 

Digital Light Processing (DLP)

With the help of post-curing, DLP uses polymerized resins that are cured with more conventional light. 

You can use CLIP or continuous liquid interface production instead of DLP. 

Binder Jetting

In this type of rapid prototyping, you can print various parts simultaneously. The drawback is that the parts that are made using binder jetting may not be as good as the ones that SLS creates. 

A powder bed is used on which the microfine droplets are sprayed layers are bonded together with powder particles. Every layer is rolled before adding the next layer of powder. After the completion, the model is put into the oven. 

What Are the Fundamentals of Rapid Prototyping?

Currently, there are about 20 vendors who run the rapid prototyping process. The rapid prototyping method used by them are as follows:

  • Photcuring
  1. single laser beam
  2. double laser beam
  3. masked lamp
  • Cutting and gluing
  • Melting and binding

Whatever approach or technique vendors adopt, rapid prototyping is the basic process they mainly use. Following are the fundamentals of rapid prototyping:

  • On a CAD, a component is modeled.
  • The component that we built is then converted into a file format called ‘.STL’ or STereoLithography that comes from the 3D models.
  • A computer-based program will look at the.STL format and the component are then divided into cross-sections. 
  • These cross-sections are then liquified to finally make the 3D structure. 

Where Is Rapid Prototyping Used?

Previously the rapid prototyping process was mainly utilized by the automotive industry. They created scale and parts m models from the rapid 3d prototyping. 

But today rapid prototyping has taken up space even in the medical and other industries. 

Designers in the product teams use rapid prototyping for building prototypes. This helps them visualize, design, and develop products before producing them on a large scale. 

Advantages of Rapid Prototyping

Rapid Prototyping allows the development teams to design the product strictly according to the end user’s needs. The quick feedback from the users helps refine the design and reduces the possibility of the product being delayed due to new requests being made for any design changes.

Prototyping requires everyone associated with the project to collaborate and work together and deliver their honest feedback. By giving the end-users and stakeholders a chance to interact and comment on the product, the chances of it not meeting their expectations reduce drastically.

Rapid Prototyping is generally a low-cost and efficient approach. Frequent feedback from the users and the stakeholders means that you can identify any problem in its early stages before the business invests any new funds. This reduces the wastage of resources and enables the investment of resources in the right places.

You can also create multiple prototypes to perform testing against various users across various geographical locations and demographics. That allows teams to test slight differences in prototypes to gather more information about user expectations and needs.

Examples of Rapid Prototyping

Designers may create wireframes and low-fidelity prototypes in the initial development phase. However, these should not be given to the users as they may hamper their feedback.

Ideally, you should give the users a prototype of something in the middle of a low-fidelity prototype and a finished product. That may be tricky but is an essential part of understanding what the user needs and what could provide a positive user experience.

Rapid prototyping allows teams to create at least a workable version of the product. The necessary elements of the final product, such as a functional UI for any software, must be present in the prototype.

That is why paper prototypes, despite their popularity, are not considered best for this purpose. On handing a paper prototype to a user for feedback, they know that this is not the finished item. 

Thus, their feedback for this paper prototype may not be of much use compared to the feedback they would give for something that feels much closer to the end product.


When do you need Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid prototyping enables teams to garner user feedback and realize the amount of work left before they can launch the product. Fixing something after making the product can be very expensive and may cause a severe dent in the company’s reputation.

What is Rapid Prototyping in manufacturing?

In manufacturing, Rapid Prototyping refers to a group of techniques employed to design a scaled model of a physical product quickly and as close to the finished product as possible.

What is Rapid Prototyping in web design?

In web design, rapid prototyping is the process of designers creating prototypes fast and simulating the design state of a website or software.

What are some Rapid Prototyping tools?

Sketch, InVision, Framer, Adobe XD, and Origami Studio are some Rapid Prototyping tools.

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