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How is CAD used for rapid prototyping?

Rapid prototyping and the use of CAD software has become an integral part of the production process in modern engineering and manufacturing industries. In fact, the number of businesses in the 3D printing and rapid prototyping services industry in the UK grew by 5.3% between 2018 and 2022.

3D printing in particular is a growing market and has become a big part of CAD software and rapid prototyping. It opens more avenues for low-fidelity prototypes, which can be used to help refine designs and shape the development process. And with the demand for 3D printing soaring, there's never been a more crucial time for CAD to play a role in prototype fabrication. Here's how CAD and rapid prototyping is used for product design at an industry level.

What is CAD prototyping?

CAD prototyping involves the use of software to design models that can eventually be produced. Users can create a CAD prototype drawing or a 3D model from scratch using a variety of tools found in relevant software. Once the user is happy with the design, the model can be created.

What is rapid prototyping in CAD?

Rapid prototyping more specifically refers to the fast manufacturing of a physical part or model using 3D CAD software.

A typical example of rapid prototyping involves additive manufacturing, otherwise known as 3D printer prototyping. Once you've completed the design, you can export it to a file format that works with slicing software. This then translates it into G-code instructions that can be read by a 3D printer.

Other technologies for rapid prototyping processes include:

  • Casting e.g. vacuum casting
  • Extruding
  • High-speed machining e.g. CNC
  • Moulding

CAD is used to facilitate these rapid prototyping processes. It allows the designer or engineer to refine the design virtually before sending it into production.

What different types of rapid prototyping use CAD?

It's important to understand the different types of prototypes first, as rapid prototyping tends to be for individual parts as opposed to a final model. The degree of prototype accuracy can range from low-fidelity to high-fidelity functionality. Rapid prototypes are typically associated with low-fidelity models.

  • Low-fidelity prototype: These are simple to produce and they tend to be far away from the end product.
  • High-fidelity prototype: These are much closer to the end product.

When was CAD first used in prototyping?

The term 'computer-aided design' was first used in the 1950s and is associated with computer scientist Douglas Ross. The first CAD systems used for commercial purposes came out in 1964 and were mainly adopted in the engineering, information technology and aerospace industries.

What are the advantages of CAD and rapid prototyping?

There are several advantages of using CAD to design rapid prototypes. Firstly, the digital capabilities of CAD software mean less time is spent on designing, which in turn can reduce the overall development cost of a project. Rapid prototyping also opens up new testing opportunities, making functionality testing far less costly too.

On top of reduced costs, the speed at which designs can be created and manufactured using CAD rapid prototyping is a huge advantage. Rapid prototypes can also help pitch and demonstrate ideas before funding is issued. CAD software can be used for 3D printer prototyping, where prototype drawings are transferred directly using a design file with instructions to generate a physical model.

Another advantage that CAD can have for rapid prototyping is that teams can collaborate and share designs. This can help eliminate risks by ironing out possible design flaws. Plus, the process of using rapid prototyping to test out a concept before applying it to a final product is a much safer way to approach engineering projects. If flaws are identified, the original 3D CAD model can be revisited and improved.

Get started with free rapid prototyping CAD software using DesignSpark Mechanical

Whether you want to use CAD and rapid prototyping for product design or simply to learn a new skill, we have you covered. Get DesignSpark Mechanical Explorer to see what our basic CAD package looks like. If you like what you see, you can upgrade to Creator or Engineer to unlock more advanced features that will allow you to create more intricate designs.

Use our free 3D CAD software to create your own prototype and make the most of our DesignSpark Mechanical resources online. And if you want to find out more about our CAD software, you can also look at our support FAQs and Mechanical Forum to search for answers.

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I'm a Mechanical Engineer by qualification though I worked for a long time specialising in Motion Control systems and integration with various PLC systems. I've wide experience of many types of applications from packaging machines to military and some applications that I can't mention. At home, I like to tinker and make things with wood, metal, plastics, electronics and mechanical system. I'm never happier than with a hammer and a screwdriver in my hands....
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