Rapid prototyping methods
The method used to manufacture prototypes depends primarily on the application requirements. The mechanical properties of a sample are determined not only by the material, but also by the printing method and its specific implementation. The time and the number of the prototypes to be manufactured also affect the selection of printing method.
Selective laser sintering
This method is well suited to manufacturing customised individual parts and series of up to 10,000 units. In this method, a laser melts thermoplastic powder layer by layer to create the specified model. Prototypes created with this method have an especially great load capacity. It is the most frequently used additive manufacturing method at igus®, since it has superior strength, precision, and component price. Various finishing options such as colouring or polishing are also offered.
FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling)
Based on special plastic filaments, this method creates especially robust components in small quantities. An important advantage of the FDM method is the wide selection of materials for special requirements such as high temperatures or food contact and the comparatively simple combinability of various materials to produce a prototype. This method does not allow complex geometries to be mapped as flexibly as laser sintering does.
Rapid Tooling (print2mold): injection-moulded parts from additively manufactured injection moulding tools
For industrial prototyping, high-volume production of functional prototypes, and special material requirements, additive manufacture of injection moulding tools is frequently a good idea. A greater selection of materials is available, since not every plastic is available for 3D printing. This technology allows the manufacture of technical prototypes that are largely identical with the final product, but the peculiarities of injection moulding limit design freedom more than 3D printed prototypes would. Depending on requirements and the necessary number of units, injection moulds are manufactured of metal or with the Stereolithography (SLA) method.
Subtractive methods: bar stock
Prototypes manufactured from bar stock also allow both material and mechanical properties to be mapped as early as the test phase and tested in their full functionality. For this method, material is removed mechanically by such methods as milling to manufacture the necessary workpiece from the raw material. The advantage of this technology is that it removes certain limitations that are present in 3D printing, such as minimum wall thickness. The material selection for prototyping with bar stock is greater than for additive manufacturing. This method's cost advantage is in the production of large quantities or especially simple parts.
Other commonly used prototyping methods
While igus® uses the methods listed above to manufacture plastic prototypes, there are various other methods in the area of prototype production for various materials, including vacuum casting, contour crafting, laser powder forming, space puzzle moulding, and layer laminate manufacturing.