Rapid Prototyping

Written by Adam Blau
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Even up until fairly recently, engineers found it necessary to create solid, actual 3-dimensional prototypes of objects they were designing. After the initial design stage, it was necessary to build the unit to subject it to a number of tests and analyses. The tests couldn't be performed in the theoretical world, as computers weren't necessarily powerful enough to handle the complex physics calculations necessary to complete the analyses.

Building such prototypes cost engineering and design firms a remarkable amount of extra money and time. The material and labor costs for building and testing prototypes could cost a tremendous amount of money, and could take weeks or months to develop, depending on the circumstances. When you factor in the truth that many of these prototypes failed and needed to be scrapped, it is no wonder that design firms faced monumental costs.

CAD and Rapid Prototyping

With the recent development of more sophisticated computer-aided design (CAD) software, it is possible to diminish significantly the amount of time and money spent on prototypes. The latest releases of CAD software function as more than simply construction and planning devices. They also allow an engineer to construct, effectively, a virtual prototype of their components.

Engineers can use some CAD programs to conduct analyses and tests on virtual components, just as they would actual 3-dimensional prototypes. Recently developed powerful computers are able to process the complex physics equations necessary to perform these tests, just as real-world gauges would do. What's more, the CAD-developed virtual prototypes can be created extremely rapidly, often with just a few mouse clicks.

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