3D Printer or Rapid Prototyping Solution?

17th January 2017

Accelerate Your Manufacturing Cycle

What is the difference between 3D printing and rapid prototyping and which one will benefit your manufacturing processes? To determine which solution is the best fit, we must first prioritise your product development process.

Transforming your concept into a market-ready product involves a carefully conducted product development process, vital in the role in both the functional and economic success of your final product.

And it is therefore imperative, using factors such as lead time and engineering efforts, for manufacturers to be able to measure the performance of their product development cycle in order to make improvements.

Over the last few years the demand for product versatility and variety has increased alongside the ability to customise products. Whilst product lifespans are shortened due to ever-changing trends. In order to stay ahead of the game manufacturers must gain that competitive edge by being able to facilitate the development of more and more products, but also the versatility to adjust to changing market demand.

This means that your product development cycle needs to become more agile, intuitive and efficient. Additionally, decisions made early in the production cycle can ultimately affect big investments further down the line.


3D printing has been used for close to three decades in many of the world’s largest and most demanding design and manufacturing companies, turning on-screen concept designs into one-off physical objects.

Since the turn of the millennium, 3D printing is increasingly being recognised for its opportunities within smaller enterprises, rapid prototyping shops and design work. Companies have introduced this technology as an aid within their design and product development cycle, soon realising its integral and often indispensable role within these processes.

Many 3D printing companies claim to sell ‘professional’ prototyping small, entry-level, general purpose systems when most do not have the capability to support a steady rapid prototyping workflow.

While such 3D printers are a useful entry-level tool to the wider technology, companies looking to significantly impact their product development cycle have to be made aware of all factors separating professional rapid prototyping systems from general 3D printing machines.

During verification of the initial concept, you will need a system that can churn out multiple iterations, in a fast and cost-effective process. At this point during the prototyping process you are essentially evaluating the form of the product. It is at this stage where general. Entry-level 3D printers will offer simple iterations and perhaps perform the best.

At the validation stage of your design and prototyping process you will have at least two contenders and will need to evaluate which is able to perform better depending on its form and fit. This will come down to high tolerances, multiple materials and colours in a single build, thin walls, complex geometries including soluble material, moving parts and more. For serious design validation processes the majority of small and desktop, entry-level 3D printers are unlikely to meet the accuracy, detail and repeatability required to do this.

Finally, the design’s functional performance must be tested. This can be carried out through stress tests, drop-tests or limited real-application usage. Engineering-grade materials are vital to this stage. If cost-effective PLA material was ideal at the concept stage, for functional performance you need production-grade ABS, ASA, PC, PC-ABS, various Nylon grades, ULTEM and more.

Looking beyond the focus of your rapid prototyping workflow, questions remain relating to learning and operating time, support and future capabilities. When comparing your overall requirements to a potential rapid prototyping system, you need to ask yourself how it will accommodate to your future needs.

Consider overall solution effectiveness. Are your products dependent on consumer demand and market reaction? If you require a solution that allows your business to react fast in the refinement of product design and development cycles, a systematic approach through rapid prototyping solutions is the tool you need to compete at the top.

SYS Systems offer true rapid prototyping technology, with 3D printing systems designed to enable you to iterate, verify and test your products during the prototyping phase. The advanced range of machines offer you the tools you need to succeed amongst the best in the market, and our team of expert engineers offer you the support you need to ensure you are always ahead of the game.

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