Rapid prototyping is one of the many manufacturing techniques you can use to create a three-dimensional piece. You could thus use a different method as well, such as laser cutting. However, rapid prototyping is used quite a lot. It essentially is a technique that makes use of additive manufacturing and 3D computer-aided design, which is often called CAD. As said before, rapid prototyping can be used to develop 3D products. This is usually done for research and development purposes, although product testing is done quite a lot as well with the help of rapid prototyping. There are many processes you can use for rapid prototyping, below you will find three examples.
Fused Deposition Modeling
Fused Deposition Modeling is usually referred to as FDM and is an extremely versatile technique. You can use a wide variety of thermoplastics, while the production will not take a long time. These are essentially the benefits of FDM, but it has a major disadvantage too: compared to other additive manufacturing methods Fused Deposition Modeling has rather low dimensional accuracy and resolution. If you are early in the prototyping phase it is advised to use FDM. This is the case since the intricate details are not very important in the early stages.
Selective Laser Sintering
SLS, as Selective Laser Sintering is often called, makes use of thermoplastic polymers, these come in a granular shape. Unfortunately, small variations can occur between pieces when you are using SLS to print a 3D item. This is the case since the parts are printed by 3D using a lot of layers. Selective Laser Sintering also may not be the best process to employ if the prototype needs to have small tolerances or intricate details. When the overall fit and function of the prototype are important, it is smart to use SLS.
Stereolithography can be used in order to manufacture pieces with extremely high dimensional accuracy, while the parts can also have intricate details. On the other hand, prints created with SLA are usually brittle. The mechanical specifications may also degrade over time. Therefore, Stereolithography is not the right process to use to print functional prototypes. However, you can use SLA for rapid prototyping if you are in the early stages of prototyping. The mechanical side of things are not focused on in this phase, while the design is much more important.