Choosing the Best Rapid Manufacturing Processes/Services for Your Business
Not all rapid manufacturing services are the same. Here are the most common types and their benefits.
Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM)
Rapid prototyping has become an inexpensive way to boost the production of everything from wood furniture to aircraft components. It has become so affordable that even small companies can invest in rapid manufacturing, or Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM), from prototype to final product development. Additive manufacturing comes in a few basic forms, all of which expend fewer waste materials than traditional subtractive manufacturing processes. With the use of specialized modeling software, technicians can program a machine to produce a physical model that is an accurate rendering of the visual model on a computer screen.
Stereolithography (SLA) is one of the fastest and most affordable rapid product prototyping methods. Simple parts can be printed within hours. A liquid polymer is shaped by a laser beam, which traces the prototype’s design layer by layer. Each subsequent layer adheres to the one formed before it, forming a three-dimensional object. The models created by this photopolymerization process can be used to test the form and function of the design. First patented in 1984, stereolithography is used in general prototyping and anatomical modeling for medical applications (human body parts can be recreated using MRI and CT scans).
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is used to form prototype parts made of waxes and polycarbonates but often doesn’t yield as much detail as SLA. A continuous filament of molten thermoplastic material is fed from a coil through a printer extruder head and forced out of a nozzle onto a flatbed. Controlled by a computer, the machine head moves in two dimensions to form each layer of the part. Hobbyists often use FDM, but manufacturers also use it for creating parts that are heat resistant and withstand intense functional testing.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is an additive process like SLA but instead fuses particles together. Prototypes made of metal, plastic, or ceramic powder can be made cheaply. The drawback is that the process is a bit slower, although it’s often used for CNC machining, 3D printing and scanning, injection molding, and other manufacturing capabilities in aerospace, industrial, medical, and defense applications. SLS can be used to develop consumer products as well.
Electron Beam Melting (EBM)
Electron Beam Melting (EBM) forms metal parts by melting a powder, layer by layer, to form strong, solid components. No additional heat treatment is required, and parts typically have a highly desirable surface finish. Component size is limited because the EBM process must occur within a vacuum. On the other hand, paper can be used as a base material if you choose Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM). Paper layers are formed similarly to how photopolymers are during SLA production. Users of LOM can expect a little less dimensional accuracy, but prototypes can be formed inexpensively with an easy-to-obtain material.
These are some of the rapid manufacturing processes you can use to create prototypes and even finished products. Each has its advantages and drawbacks. With the right process or service for the application, the design, testing, and production process can be expedited with little guesswork as to how the final product will look and function.