rapid prototyping appliances




Rapid Prototyping Home Appliances


Additive manufacturing, rapid prototyping and 3D printing are huge buzzwords in the industrial hub today due to the time reduced, money saved and accuracy achieved through these technologies. Different industries such as automotive, medical, aerospace etc. are reaping the benefits of rapid prototyping in order to manufacture better, more accurate parts- even entire cars and airplanes!


Rapid prototyping can also be used for manufacturing home appliances that eliminates the traditional assembly line based production, leaving room for customization of home appliances just the way the clients want it. These requirement specific orders are best handled through 3D printing and rapid prototyping as at any point in the production life cycle, any kind of altercation can be done to the product. One such rapid prototyping success when it comes to home appliances is the ChillHub by FirstBuild. It looks like a run on the mill refrigerator on the outside. However it comes with cool stuff on the inside like wifi connectivity and two USB hubs that can be plugged in to get control of the refrigerator’s components. Success stories like this are making more and more companies keen on developing 3D printed home appliances.


In this post, we take a closer look inside the development of home appliances through different stages of rapid prototyping.



Metal Rapid Prototyping for Appliances

During the stage of rapid prototyping in manufacture of appliances, the key points to keep in mind in order to successfully iterate a new product are quick turnaround times for small batch and low cost production runs. As traditionally used methods such as die stamping or die casting can only be cost effective for bulk production, more and more engineers prefer to use metal prototyping due to these demands. Various new developments in rapid prototyping technologies have made metal a preferable and viable material for this purpose.


Technologies Used


Currently there are six new technologies that allow the prototyping of appliances in order to create cheaper and faster prototypes in small sections. Out of these, three methods of casting can be used in case of metal prototypes. These are as follows-


  1. Investment casting: Initially, a three dimensional wax model is created for investment casting which is covered in ceramic and baked. After the ceramic has baked, heat is applied on the wax to melt and remove it. This wax is then replaced with liquid metal. After the hardening of the metal, the mold of ceramic is broken to reveal the part. This process is repeated to make a new part.
  2. Plaster casting: A multi-part mold is first created from plaster, in which metal is poured and left alone till solidification. Breaking the mold reveals the finished part. The method can only be used for non ferrous metals like aluminum.
  3. Sand casting: Similar to plaster casting, this method produces a much rougher finish. The mold is made out of sand or clay.



Other Methods

Aside from different forms of casting, prototypes can be made through two other technologies.


  1. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): Layers upon layers of powder is melted in this technology in order to construct parts. The metal-plastic composite powder ensures aesthetic properties of die casting, but not functional properties.
  2. Metal coating: This method takes a base non metal form, which is usually plastic. This non metal is then given metal coatings as required.




This process produces parts directly from stock metal. This was only used for large volumes of production runs as it was a bit too expensive both time and finance wise, for rapid prototyping. However, 3D CAD designs can now be converted into toolpaths for these machining equipments. Hence the cost and time have both been reduced greatly. Machining is now a viable option for rapid prototyping of home appliances especially when it is important to match the functionality of a final die stamped or die cast part.



Using Plastic: Polymer Prototyping

A great and practical alternative to make prototypes is plastic. Many prototypes for lighting can be made entirely out of metal or glass. However as there have been new advances in heat resistance and transparency of plastic, the functional prototypes for lighting can now be made using plastics and polymers. In order to keep the costs at a minimal, plastic is often used for creation of metal parts and models. However, many difficulties can be caused while replicating the appliance’s true function and the manufacturability of the parts made of metal.


It was impossible to replicate the transparency of glass and the heat resistant property of metal by using plastic. This made plastics practically useless for producing lighting prototypes for manufacturing of appliances. Some new developments in the quality of plastic manufacture have made them almost equal to or better than glass and metal when it comes to manufacturing a lighting prototype. LED lights these days have lower heat emission than traditional lights, hence the need for metal and glass prototypes have been reduced greatly. Some properties of plastic that are contributing to this are-


  1. Heat resistance: Thermoset plastics become hard when they are heated as opposed to thermoplastic which soften upon heating. This makes thermoset plastic a great choice for making lighting prototypes.
  2. Conductivity: Even though plastic resins cannot conduct as much as true metals, they do provide five hundred times greater thermal conductivity than normal plastic. Some other advantages that they have are corrosion resistance, lighter weight etc. over metal. LSR or Liquid Silicone Rubber is flexible, making it ideal for lighting prototypes. The properties of it are scratch resistance, ninety four percent light transmissions, flexibility and crack resistance.
  3. Shapes: Using stereolithography, a process of additive manufacturing, lighting shapes can be molded easily. Stereolithography uses successive layers of photopolymer resin in order to construct parts. These parts are almost distortion free; however their enhanced flexibility has a catch. The parts created in this method are not truly optical, hence exposure to ultraviolet rays can cause these optical additive materials to degrade.
  4. Transparency: The transparency of thermoplastics is now on par with glass materials with around ninety percent transmittance of light. Acrylic (PMMA), polycarbonate (PC), clear K-Resin and Styron clear polystyrene resin all exhibit the average light transmission equal to glass. These injection molded plastics are hence good options for making lighting prototypes.


Using these rapid prototyping methods, home appliances can easily for the most part be manufactured for the homes of the future.



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