Rapid prototyping – mega trend in the industry

3D printing icon image

Depending on the material used, 3D printers can create a wide variety of things, right down to human tissue. © gorodenkoff, Getty Images

With the help of rapid prototyping, prototypes or models of a new product are created very quickly. The rapid technologies also include rapid tooling, i.e. rapid tool manufacture and rapid manufacturing, rapid small series production. Many researchers see rapid prototyping as a megatrend that will determine many areas of industry in the near future.

In addition to 3D printing, which plays a very important role in this, other additive and subtractive manufacturing processes with CNC controls are also used. The manual work for building models or prototypes is no longer necessary. With rapid prototyping, new products can go through the individual development phases much more quickly and thus be ready for series production in a timely manner. This means that the time from the idea to market entry is very short.

How does rapid prototyping work?

Companies interested in developing prototypes or producing small series plastic parts will seek out a product type developer if they do not have their own in their company. They determine exactly which applications they are planning, what the surfaces should be like, what material the prototype should be made of and many other details. The prototype developers have various methods and tools at their disposal to produce prototypes or small series, for example casting moulds, milling or the 3D printer.

The different manufacturing processes

There are over 30 different rapid prototyping processes worldwide. Among the most important are various 3D printing processes that build the prototype layer by layer. The following processes are just a small selection from the available manufacturing processes.

3D powder printing

The prototypes consist of layers of polymer gypsum that are a tenth of a millimeter thick. They are full color and particularly popular as display models or for exhibitions.


Selective laser sintering and selective laser melting are very suitable for small series. A machine melts the powdery starting material and shapes it layer by layer into the desired shape.

Fused layer modelling

FLM is an extrusion process in which an object is melted locally and then shaped using heated nozzles. The finished parts are mechanically and thermally very resilient.

Layer Laminate Manufacturing

LLM and LOM – Laminated Object Modeling create models from thin paper, ceramic or plastic foils. The finished models are relatively imprecise.


This is a printing process with photosensitive polymer trophies that harden directly using a UV laser. The process is very well suited for realistic prototypes.


SLA is the oldest process in rapid prototyping. An ultraviolet laser beam hardens thin synthetic resin. The process is very precise, the parts produced in this way have a high-quality surface. However, the parts are not very mechanically resilient.

3D milling

In 3D milling, a milling head moves on at least five controllable axes. It is primarily used for the production of large components made of synthetic and foam materials. The process is very economical and very precise.

What are the advantages of rapid prototyping?

Rapid prototyping has some advantages for users. As a result, it has long since become indispensable in many industries.

Faster and more accurate

In the case of simple models, a mock-up can be quickly produced manually. However, the models often lack strength and durability. When tested with other components, such as gears or fittings, these models are not as effective. The models are usually not so easy to reproduce. With rapid prototyping processes, these problems do not arise in the first place. The prototypes can be made from a wide variety of materials. It is very easy to build a prototype that is very similar to the final product.

Much cheaper

The spread of rapid prototyping has created a whole new service area. Companies no longer have to invest in expensive printing technologies themselves, but hire a service provider to create a prototype. This saves companies high costs.

Innovative possibilities

With rapid prototyping, companies have the opportunity to quickly and easily produce experimental models and prototypes. Bioprinting is a process that can be used, for example, to reproduce real human tissue. There are research projects here in which entire organs come out of the 3D printer. Also Medicines can be made from a 3D printer come.

Try different designs

With rapid prototyping, companies can cost-effectively try out different design variants of their new product in order to achieve the optimal result more quickly.

Components easier to check

With rapid prototying, partial functions or the design can be quickly adapted, components are easier to check.

Try different materials

In order to be able to better assess the properties of the end product, it makes sense to use the planned material for the prototype. This is now possible at low cost with rapid prototyping.

Lower risk

If a prototype is already exactly like the later finished product, it can be tested and checked much better. This significantly reduces the cost risk because costly manufacturing processes are not necessary from the start.

Low-waste manufacturing

No molds are needed to make the prototype. In this way, companies can have a three-dimensional model created without producing a lot of waste.

Why is rapid prototyping necessary?

Rapid prototype development has been around since the 1980s. Due to digital designs, real objects are created quickly. In the past, artists such as sculptors often developed models and created scale replicas. With the new methods, companies can now create their own prototypes. Companies can experiment with different manufacturing methods and work much more competitively due to the cost savings. More and more players have jumped in and are using the new technologies. A whole new branch of industry has even emerged with rapid prototyping.

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