CAD Innovations in Rapid Prototyping

Rapid Prototyping has advanced our ability to design and fabricate models, proof-of-principle prototypes, and in some cases functional components. Few of the well-established Additive Processes, whereby plastic parts are built layer by layer directly from a 3D CAD model, some of the common techniques are:

  • Stereo Lithography (SLA)
  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
  • Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
  • The Polyjet Process

Computer Numeric Control (CNC) Machining is also a well-known subtractive process that machines, billets to produce the desired parts. Other rapid prototyping processes include Injection Molding and Casting, which use master molds to inject or cast plastic or urethane parts. New methods, techniques, and approaches to rapid prototyping parts and components are being developed each year. Some of the most exciting developments are given below.

Ford’s F3T Rapid Stamping Process

Ford Motor Company uses many sheet metal parts in its assembled vehicles, and is world renowned with sheet metal fabrication. The process of taking a new design from a CAD model to prototype can be time consuming. This latency increases the design iteration time making it extremely cumbersome to make one-off prototypes and test-fit new designs. Recently, Ford has created a new rapid process, which they call the Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology (F3T), as part of a three-year, $7.04 M, U.S. Department of Energy funded effort for next-generation, energy-efficient manufacturing processes. This new short run stamping technology reduces costs and delivery times for low-quantity run sheet metal parts.

The process begins with a CAD model used to create a Computer Numeric Control (CNC) tool path, which is similar to the path used by a 3D printer to generate the part. It directs the position and depth of a dual arm robot, which holds tools in both arms as they process the sheet into shape. This process allows prototypes and small production runs (less than 100,000 parts) with shorter lead times cost effectively. Customization becomes more viable since the cost of design iterations is drastically reduced.  The short run stamping process may have bigger applications in various industries.

Large-scale 3D Printers

Another exciting area of innovation in rapid prototyping is the use of 3D printers for building models and working prototypes that until recently were impossible. 3D printers are now capable of printing vehicles and even small houses! Researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Cincinnati Incorporated have developed a printer capable of using Additive Processes to build theStrati Car. The machine, referred to as Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM), have a build volume of 7’ x 13’ x 3’, with a deposition rate of 40 lbs/hr against BAAM’s rate of 40 lbs/hr. The system combines 3D printing and CNC routing to the largest high-quality 3D printing. A second generation of this technology, referred to as Bertha, will feature a volume of 8’ x 20’ x 6’ and a deposition rate of 100 lbs/hr.

Other researchers have developed technologies that could revolutionize the housing industry by using Additive Manufacturing to build structures. Massimo Moretti has devoted his time to applying 3D printer technologies to provide rapid prototype solutions to cater to housing crisis in developing countries across the world. The project, known as the World’s Advanced Saving Project (WASP) mimics the construction method of the Mud Dauber Wasp building its nest. The goal of this technology is to build houses at virtually no cost using materials that are readily available on-site in third-world countries. The entire system is designed so that two people can assemble a 3D printer within 2 hours. Researchers at Winsun New Materials, China spent $3.2M USD over 12 years developing an enormous 3D printer. This printer measures a whopping 6.6m tall, 10m wide and 150m long. The houses are printed layer by layer using a mixture of cement and glass fibers to create a strong composite structure. Recently, Winsun proved that it could build 10 houses of 200 square meters in size using only recycled construction and industrial waste in less than 24 hours at a cost of only $4,800 each.

3D Printed Jet Engines

The scope of 3D printing has not only confined to housing, but also has extended to jet engines, which are extremely difficult to build including many intricate parts, machined from many parts with high tolerances for a seamless assembly. Researchers at the Monash Centre for Additive Manufacturing,Australia have produced the first 3D printed jet engine, based on an auxiliary powered gas turbine engine from Safran, a French aerospace firm. The Monash Centre used Concept Laser’s X line 1000R 3D printer, a state-of-the-art industrial printer which fabricated components from metal powder with sizes up to 60cm x 40cm x 50cm.

Whatever your proof-of-principle prototype needs may be, there is a suitable rapid prototype method that exists which requires only a CAD model and material/finish selection. Software that deliver .STP files enable customer’s bring ideas to life. We at Australian Design and Drafting help individuals and companies alike in this endeavor.The possibilities are endless as the technology is becoming more viable and is extending to large sheet metals as well.