Rapid prototyping is a revolutionary and powerful technology with wide range of applications. The process of prototyping involves quick building up a prototype or working model for the purpose of testing the various design features, ideas, concepts, functionality, output and performance. The user is able to give immediate feedback regarding the prototype and its performance. Rapid prototyping is essential part of the process of system designing and it is believed to be sufficient beneficial as far as reduction of project cost and risk are concerned.
Rapid prototyping is known by many terms as per the technologies involved, like SFF or solid freeform fabrication, FF or freeform fabrication, digital fabrication, AFF or automated freeform fabrication, 3D printing, solid imaging, layer-based manufacturing, laser prototyping and additive manufacturing .
History of Rapid Prototyping:
Sixties: The first rapid prototyping techniques became accessible in the later eighties and they were used for production of prototype and model parts. The history of rapid prototyping can be traced to the late sixties, when an engineering professor, Herbert Voelcker, questioned himself about the possibilities of doing interesting things with the computer controlled and automatic machine tools. These machine tools had just started to appear on the factory floors then. Voelcker was trying to find a way in which the automated machine tools could be programmed by using the output of a design program of a computer.
Seventhies: Voelcker developed the basic tools of mathematics that clearly describe the three dimensional aspects and resolved in the earliest theories of algorithmic and mathematical theories for solid modeling. These theories form the basis of modern computer programs that are used for designing almost all things mechanical, ranging from the smallest toy car to the tallest skyscraper. Volecker's theories changed the designing methods in the seventies, but, the old methods for designing were still very much in use. The old method involved either a machinist or machine tool controlled by a computer. The metal hunk was cut away and the needed part remained as per requirements.
Eighties: However, in 1987, Carl Deckard, a researcher form the University of Texas, came up with a good revolutionary idea. He pioneered the layer based manufacturing, wherein he thought of building up the model layer by layer. He printed 3D models by utilizing laser light for fusing metal powder in solid prototypes, single layer at a time. Deckard developed this idea into a technique called "Selective Laser Sintering". The results of this technique were extremely promising. The history of rapid prototyping is quite new and recent. However, as this technique of rapid prototyping has such wide ranging scope and applications with amazing results, it has grown by leaps and bounds.
Voelcker's and Deckard's stunning finds, innovations and researchers have given extreme impetus to this significant new industry known as rapid prototyping or free form fabrication. It has revolutionized the designing and manufacturing processes.
Although, there are many references of people pioneering the rapid prototyping technology, the industry gives recognition to Charles Hull for the patent of Apparatus for Production of 3D Objects by Stereolithography. Charles Hull is recognized by the industry as the father of rapid prototyping.
Present-day Rapid Prototyping: Today, the computer engineer has to simply sketch the ideas on the computer screen with the help of a design program that is computer aided. Computer aided designing allows to make modification as required and you can create a physical prototype that is a proper and proper 3D object.