Rapid prototyping describes the production of models with the aim of visualizing ideas, exploring certain aspects of a solution or testing a preliminary result. The rapid construction of prototypes at various points in the development process accelerates product development and provides security for series production.

The fastest and cheapest method for prototype production is 3D printing. The starting point is a digital, three-dimensional model of the component that is imported from a CAD or 3D programming system. The data is transferred directly into the component without molds and tools, which saves costs and time. Prototypes can be produced in only a few days (fast availability). Further, decisive advantages of rapid prototyping include the ability to implement changes at short notice, a fast learning curve and arrival at a series solution via a quick succession of iterative steps.

In addition to these direct, additive processes, subsequent casting processes are also available (on the basis of a 3D-printed master model). At 1zu1 Prototypes, we use plastic vacuum casting  with polyurethane casting resins.

Another option for the production of prototypes is mechanical manufacturing. Our turning, milling and lathe-milling machines enable us to produce complex models and components in original materials (e.g., PA6 GF 30, Grivory, etc.) within the usual rapid-prototyping time frames, which range from a few days to several weeks.

Rapid prototypes come in a wide variety of forms

The most common applications in prototype construction are design, concept, functional and geometric prototypes.

Design prototypes 

A design prototype is used to verify aesthetic and ergonomic features. These prototypes/models fulfil three functions: Firstly, they enable detailed design studies (spatially realistic representation, proportions, aesthetics, haptics, technical functionality). Secondly, they serve as presentation objects for decision-making or clarification of acceptance by customers; and thirdly, they form the basis for generating the 3D data needed for design and production.

Concept prototypes 

These models are used to illustrate a particular concept or test an idea.

Functional prototypes 

These are prototypes that already exhibit the important functional properties of a subsequent series-production component. Among other things, the mechanical, electrical, acoustic or thermal functions of individual components are verified.

Geometric prototypes 

Dimensionally accurate models used for initial assembly and user trials, or to specify a requirement profile. The main focus here is on checking the form and fit accuracy as well as the tolerances. The material-specific properties are less important.

Which rapid-prototyping process should I choose?

Each rapid-prototyping process has its strengths. The goal is to get as close as possible, i.e. “1–to–1”, to the requirements for the subsequent original part by choosing the right process. Different materials are used in the various printing technologies. Different solutions range from the first, rough concept prototype to a perfect design model or a fully functional pre-series model in original material.