rapid prototyping future

Rapid Prototyping Materials: Past, Present & Future

Every day, a new application for rapid prototyping emerges and every day a need for new materials is thus created. One of the greatest setbacks and limitations to the existing applications and advancement of rapid prototyping is the lack of options pertaining to materials available to create the exact products people want. However, this is changing rapidly, particularly if one looks back to the beginning.

In The Beginning

In the early days of 3D printing, plastic was the most common material and people were skeptical of growth in this technology sector due to such limited options. Despite the limited materials in the early days of photopolymers turning into plastic items, the early machines provided tremendous advances to a number of industries include the auto industry and the airline industry. Both of these industries used rapid prototyping to create prototypes of parts before sending them to be manufactured and tested on cars. This saved time, money, and helped foster a more innovative automotive environment. The plastic parts were also a perfectly usable option for a number of professions such as dentists and doctors. As interest grew, so did the desire for new materials and more sophisticated uses.

Most Popular Materials Today

 Some of the most popular materials being used today include plastics, metals, ceramics, paper, food, and bio-materials. Each material has a unique use and it is also becoming more common to use more than one material in a design with the technological advances of the latest machines. Today, plastic remains a top choice for rapid prototyping. A number of different types of plastic can be used with varying degrees of flexibility, color, and strength. Aluminum, stainless steel, gold, silver, and cobalt are the most common metals being used. They are used in industrial printing, to make customized jewelry, and much more.

Ceramics can now be used, and this material is quickly gaining momentum in popularity for commercial and personal uses. An interesting point about rapid prototyping and ceramics is that ceramic items still have to be fired and glazed after printing for the material and item to be complete. Another interesting material being used to create models and prototypes is paper. Many companies and individuals find paper printing a highly affordable way to determine whether or not a design is feasible and practical. And, another printing material quickly growing in demand worldwide is food. As chefs race to create printed food masterpieces admired and desired the world over, the machines and types of food with which they can work is also expanding. Today, it is possible to print with chocolate, meat, sugar, and pasta.

Environmentally Friendly and Sustainable Materials

 One of the greatest advantages to using rapid prototyping is the reduction of one’s carbon footprint. Firstly, companies and individuals who are utilizing rapid prototyping are eliminating the shipping process of goods. Removing trucks from the road can only help improve the air quality that is causing severe health problems and environmental catastrophes in so many parts of the world. Secondly, many of the materials available today for rapid prototyping are biodegradable. The materials that substitute traditional materials are often recyclable, reusable, and will rapidly break down if they end up in a landfill. Lastly, rapid prototyping is beginning to eliminate waste and unnecessary production. Businesses only print the exact number of items they need rather than to manufacture estimated quantities that often end up unsold and thrown out. The environmental benefits of rapid prototyping have only just begun.

Coming Soon

The materials to be used in the future are being developed to improve upon the quality of products being printed. Being able to improve upon the structural core and external appearance is one of the greatest interests of companies now that rapid prototyping has become a viable manufacturing alternative. The existing materials are capable of printing desireable finished goods, however there is significant room for improvement. And, many people are also focusing on more biodegradable materials to have an even greater impact on the environment. At the end of the day, to be able to offer more materials, the machines and their technologies have to develop even more and allow for more materials to be used in the same design with the same machine. Once this occurs, the material development will likely explode.

 The development of rapid prototyping materials is just beginning. In 40 years, this industry has only scratched the surface of reaching its potential. In the coming years, it is likely that this industry will be unrecognizable to its current state and material options will be limitless. The only restraint to progress in this industry is the imagination of innovators, and they are quickly imagining a totally different world.

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