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What is Rapid Prototyping? A Rapid Prototyping FAQ

example of rapid prototyping

What is rapid prototyping?

Rapid prototyping is a prototyping process that involves making three-dimensional physical objects from a digital file, most often by laying down many layers of material in succession. By adding layer upon layer of material, a part is built up, leading to it also being called additive manufacturing. For information on subtractive manufacturing, read our companion FAQ on machining

What are the different types of rapid prototyping?

There are multiple techniques available for rapid prototyping, with new technologies becoming available regularly. Here are the top four rapid prototyping techniques we use when building prototypes:

  • SLA - Steriolithography, or SLA, is an additive manufacturing process where UV light is applied to a photopolymer resin causing it to solidify. SLA has the advantage over other rapid prototyping methods of producing parts that are watertight and clear.
  • SLS - SLS stands for Selective Laser Sintering and involves using a high power laser to fuse a powdered material, such as nylon, into a 3D shape. Since SLS is commonly done with nylon, the parts produced are very strong.
  • FDM - Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), involves extruding thermoplastic resin through a nozzle onto a platform. The layers are applied using a cross-wise pattern that hardens as it cools. FDM is what most people envision when they think of 3D printing as it is the least expensive method and easy to use.
  • DMLS- DMLS, or Direct Metal Laser Sintering, is similar to SLS in that it uses a laser to fuse powder into a solid material. As the name suggests, the difference lies in that DMLS involves using metallic powders. Parts produced using DMLS are durable enough to work as a functional prototype as well as in end-use production.

How does rapid prototyping work?

Regardless of building material or printing methods, in order to make a 3D printed object, you need to start with a 3D digital model. Most often this model is in the form of a ComputerAided Design (CAD) file built using Solidworks or ProEngineer software. The CAD file is then run through another software that converts the 3D object into hundreds or thousands of 2D slices. The 3D printer then builds the object, layer by layer, using these 2D slices as blueprints.


What are some advantages of rapid prototyping?

  • Low-cost
  • Faster than traditional machining methods
  • Can make almost any complicated geometry, including a negative space within your object


What are some disadvantages of rapid prototyping?

  • Lower resolution than traditional metal machining
  • Grain direction matters as the part is weaker across the grain axis
  • Tolerance determined by laser or nozzle size. For FDM parts, this is currently .007” thick
  • Size limitation is based on the machine platform


What is an example of rapid prototyping?


Ready to start prototyping? Synectic utilizes multiple prototyping methods in house. Find out which method is right for your project and see how we can help get your invention off the ground. Contact us and get started today. 

Read our other prototyping articles