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ALEX DEN OUDEN
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Oude techniek en werktuigbouw,
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Rapid prototyping for 3D prototypes and visual models


Introduction & general remarks

What is rapid prototyping?

NASA X-33 Advanced Technology Demonstrator

In modern computer aided design technology, it is relatively easy to describe a 3D representation of a given design in computer code. It is less easy to visualise such 3D computer models. The computer screen has only two dimensions. Often, real "see and feel" models can be helpful, even essential, in visualising things. Until the last ten years or so, most of these prototypes were made by laboriously removing material from a block, generally on a milling machine under computer numerical control (CNC).

In recent years, new methods have been developed in which a prototype can be built up directly from the CAD-description (instead of milled down). Most of these technologies are quick and easy. They are grouped under the general header "rapid prototyping".

CAD "standards"

Starting point for a rapid prototyping method is "a CAD description". Worldwide, quite a number of different types of CAD software are used. A good rapid prototyping machine ought to be able to communicate with all major CAD systems. To this end, most machines use their own language, adding software converters to translate conventional CAD-files as required. These conversions frequently are a source of problems.

typical product

Accuracy and deformations

During rapid prototyping, various deforming effects - such as shrinkage - (can) occur. Modern rapid prototyping machine software automatically modifies manufacturing parameters to compensate for these distortions.

Rapid prototyping on the Internet

Searching the Internet for "rapid prototyping" gives hundreds of webpages. And these are just the English ones! Lucky for us, there are some sites that (try to) keep up with developments and offer pages of relevant links, often nicely categorized. They also regularly check for 404-errors, so it usually is a good idea to start a search from such indexes. I list two interesting ones below:

A. The rapid prototyping home page
This is a most extensive survey of all kinds of sources for rapid prototyping on the Internet. The site is updated frequently, as they say: ".... in an effort to keep up with the latest developments in the fast paced field of Rapid Prototyping, a.k.a. Desktop Manufacturing, Solid Freeform Fabrication, or Layered Manufacturing". They start with information on: "What is Rapid Prototyping?" and "What is the future of Rapid Prototyping?" and follow this basic material with hundreds of links in the following categories:

This page is quite extensive and it takes some time to download it. Well - it's worth the time!

B. Intersections of Art, Technology, Science & Culture
Stephen Wilson, professor at San Francisco State University's Art Department, has collected a number of links to websites built by artists working with rapid prototyping methods. You'll find some fascinating "prototypes" on these websites!

C. A mailing list on rapid prototyping
There also exists a E-mail list on the subject of rapid prototyping. E-mail lists offer a fast and simple facility for exchanging ideas, obtaining information, establishing contacts, and distributing information. The list on rapid prototyping is called "rp-ml".

What are the scope and purpose of the list? It is a forum for individuals interested in rapid prototyping technologies in manufacturing. In fact, any topic related to rapid prototyping technologies can be discussed. The list has about 1,400 subscribers and it generates some 10-20 messages a day.

To subscribe (or unsubscribe) to the "rp-ml" mailing list, send a message to majordomo@ltk.hut.fi. The message's body should contain the line <<subscribe rp-ml>> (to subscribe) or <<unsubscribe rp-ml>> (to end your subscription).


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