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As a part of the product development team, you might have considered testing a design in different versions to see which version has the best potential. Product design and development involves creating several prototypes, one for initial assessment and product development and another for external assessment.

However, many startups still make the mistake of choosing the inadequate rapid prototyping process for their prototypes. When the prototype is to be evaluated by a third party (like stakeholders, the final product should be up to standards. Therefore, it is a necessity to choose the best manufacturing process for your prototype or risk losing their confidence.

What is Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid prototyping is the solution to surpass prototype manufacturing challenges. Lately, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding the particular approach as many companies are still unsure of what it means for their business. Let us address two fundamental questions first before we go to the main topic: What is rapid prototyping, and when to use it?

Rapid Prototyping is the process that reduces the time between the steps in producing successive prototypes. It is essentially a group of techniques used to quickly fabricate a scale model of a physical part or assembly using three-dimensional, computer-aided design (CAD) data.

In short, it is a process that uses 3D printing and additive manufacturing techniques. The major benefit of using rapid prototyping is that it is “tool-less” manufacturing. It is a faster, cheaper, and more effective way to explore and create product concepts. In rapid prototyping, you can use the same equipment for each iteration and move past merely visualizing a product.

7 Rapid Prototyping Techniques

There are different rapid prototyping methods where you can take advantage to improve the product development process. The choice of manufacturing technique depends on the available resources, product requirements, and timeline. Here are the seven key manufacturing methods to choose from.

3D printing pats

3D printing pats

Stereolithography (SLA)

This method offers a wide variety of material choices and provides high detail resolution. In stereolithography, the final part can be machined and used as a master mold. Although it might be expensive, it is one of the fastest rapid prototyping methods. For those running a project on a tight deadline or a quick turnaround, the few dollars would be worth it and get the prototype on time.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

SLS involves thermoplastic material with a comparable result to injection molding. It has a metal version of this method, but both use a “power bed” process. Although SLS does not require support struts, the output is not quite as detailed as SLA and requires secondary machining.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)

With FDM, the thermoforming filament is heated and passed through a nozzle to lay down successive layers. What is best about FDM machines is they are becoming cheaper and smaller, plus they can accommodate a variety of plastics. In FDM, you can print more than one kind of material in a single build, which is an advantage for a complex design. The downside of this method is it’s too slow for large manufacturing runs, but it is cost-effective.

Multi-Jet Modeling (MJM)

The MJM method uses a thermosetting polymer that can be heated to create an array of inkjet nozzles moving horizontally across the platform. These deposits thin films for 2D cross-sectional layers, which results in higher resolution than traditional 3D methods do today.

Polymerization quickly solidifies the plastic in a layer, then the platform descends by one thickness and repeats the process until it is completed. It allows the production of extremely smooth and precise parts – even for products with complex geometries. It does not require extra finishing treatments too.

There are certain limitations to the products though. For example, the parts from MJM can have poor mechanical properties and are more suitable for non-functional prototypes.

Selective Laser Melting (SLM)

SLM involves creating metal parts with a high-powered laser used to weld and not merely sinter. Thereby, producing a fully dense part because the process takes place in a fully sealed chamber filled with an inert gas like argon.

This process is gaining popularity not only in rapid prototyping but also in low-volume production. It is largely because SLM suits complex engineering designs like hidden pockets, cooling channels, and others.

It allows designers to decrease weight while increasing strength. This is critical for demanding applications in the automotive, aerospace, and medical fields. The only downside with this method is it’s expensive, and the smaller scanning velocities can lead to longer build times.

Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM)

In LOM, the series of thin laminate layers are laid out on a build platform. The materials can be paper, plastic, or metal foil. If the paper is used as the laminate, the finished product will be similar to solid wood and can be worked accordingly. Then, a computer-controlled laser begins to remove that material. The platform will then drop by a thickness of one layer, and then a new laminate is glued on top. The process will repeat until the product is completed.

One of the downsides of this method is the stacking process creates finished products that are not as sophisticated or good as SLS or SLM. However, LOM is cheaper and does not necessitate special working conditions.

Digital Light Processing (DLP)

Another variation on the polymerization of a curable resin, DLP has a lot of similarities with SLA printing. The only difference is it cures the resin with a more conventional light source. It also needs support structures and post-build curing. However, in terms of benefits, the process is faster. The shallower reservoir of photo resin allows for more cost savings. The finished part has an excellent surface finish and dimensional tolerances.


You need to create a realistic prototype to show your stakeholders that your final product meets their standards. With the help of rapid prototyping, creating a prototype is no longer expensive and time-consuming. By selecting a rapid prototyping method for your product where you can work smarter, cheaper, and faster.