Rapid prototyping (RP) is a conventional method that has been used by the automotive and aircraft industries for years. Generally speaking, 3D printers are more compact, simpler and smaller than RP machines. They are ideal for use in offices; they use less energy and take up less space. A 3D printer is capable of all the functions provided by a rapid prototyping machine such as verifying and validating design, creating prototypes and remote sharing of information. 3D printers also come with a lower price tag; although they are not without drawbacks. They are less capable on the whole than RP machines, and are designed for low volume reproduction of real objects made of nylon or other plastics which means 3D printers make smaller parts than with RP methods. In summary, 3D printers are easy to handle and cheap to maintain, but their simplicity can let them down and the material choices can be limited.
Nevertheless, given the overall capabilities of this new technology, you could be fooled into thinking that some of the more traditional processes of Rapid Prototyping such as Polyurethane casting are facing redundancy. Not so! BJB Enterprises, a US based polyurethane manufacturer interviewed David Patrick from innovative company, Shark Wheels, who explains how 3D printing and urethane casting have each played an important part in the process of developing his new unique product. The 3D printed prototypes were used as master patterns for mould making and then parts were cast using advanced polymer urethane. (Cast urethanes are often an economical alternative to injection moulding for projects requiring low volumes of parts).
In this fascinating interview David Patrick explains how the marriage of the latest 3D printing techniques in combination with casting polyurethane prototype parts resulted in substantially reducing the cost and time of the prototyping process – enabling him quite literally to reinvent the wheel!