Making ideas tangible – In mechanical engineering, prototypes ensure that models are available quickly, accelerating product development, visualising new concepts, and greatly reducing design errors. In addition to series parts, igus® has a great deal of experience with producing special parts and prototypes for a wide variety of moving applications and can provide your project with professional support.
Find out more about prototype construction with igus
1. Rapid prototyping: Upload the 3D model of your function component quickly and easily to the online 3D printing service. Here, you immediately see the price, delivery time, and material selection. At the same time, the producibility is tested with respect to wall thicknesses and component size. In 3D printing, igus® uses only its own plain bearing materials, whose wear resistance is up to 50 times that of conventional 3D printing materials.
2. Rapid Tooling (print2mold): If there are special material requirements that the existing 3D printing materials cannot meet, print2mold is used. It is also selected when prototypes or pre-series components are to be made of the later series material. In the print2mold method, additive manufacture is used to make the injection mould out of plastic or metal , which is 80% cheaper than injection moulds manufactured by conventional means. The moulds manufactured in this way are then used to manufacture your special wear-resistant part in as little as five business days. They can be used for several orders, which allows further cost reduction.
3. Rapid manufacturing: If the prototype material and mould for your application has proven useful, the desired component can be re-ordered with the manufacturing method best suited to it. That method could be Rapid Tooling (10 to 10,000 units), mechanical manufacture from bar stock (10 to 10,000 units), regular injection moulding (3,000 units or more) or laser sintering (1 to 10,000 units). We would be happy to advise you – igus® will support you in all product development steps.
Easelink, a company from Graz, has developed "Matrix Charging", a charging system that automatically connects the bottoms of electric cars with the power supply when they are parked. To design the system to be both economical and high-quality, the designers have chosen gear prototypes made of iglidur® plastics with additive manufacturing. The igus® 3D printing service allowed sample components to be quickly ordered, tested, and adjusted until the ideal solution was reached. iglidur® I6, an especially wear-resistant self-lubricating laser sintering powder is ideally suited to the design of gears, pinions, and other heavily stressed components that must usually be regularly lubricated and maintained and frequently require replacement.
The plain bearings made of the proven iglidur materials, which are supplied from the igus 3D printing service, allow us to design completely new solutions for various applications in our cutting and winding machines due to the individual geometrical designs. The printed components are now also used in batch-produced components. New developments can also be quickly implemented and tested thanks to the test samples that are usually provided at very short notice.
Dipl.-Ing. Ulrich Vedder
Kampf Schneid- und Wickeltechnik GmbH & Co. KG
An ophthalmologist's split lamp must be very easy to move, and its axes require high-precision guides because the microscope magnifies any irregularity fortyfold. To solve this problem, A. R. C., Laser collaborated with igus® to produce a customised solution: a bearing made of the iglidur® J bar stock with especially thin walls and cut-outs for electric cables. The intense endurance tests with prototypes performed by A. R. C., over months also provide evidence of the long service life of the precision bearing on the microscope arm.
FELLA has been designing implements for tractors for more than 90 years. All swathers made by this supplier work exclusively using rotary technology, i.e. exploit the benefit of high area performance.
"If these get damaged, the rotary rake stops working. And this must not happen at any time during the harvest. Back at the test stage, we recognised that we needed a reliable anti-rotation feature. The system has been running smoothly since the launch of series production. The anti-rotation feature ensures a completely firm fit of the bushing in its housing. The friction pairing is a perfect match, so we expect to keep deploying these components for a long time,"
says Dipl. Ing. (FH) Jürgen Riedel, design engineer
Definition of rapid prototyping: In mechanical engineering, "rapid prototyping" is used to refer to quick manufacture of sample components that starts with a digital 3D model. In common parlance, "rapid prototyping" is one of the additive manufacture categories, but in product development in particular, the term is understood specifically as a method for quick design tests under real-world conditions.
Advantages of rapid prototyping:
Speed – quicker feedback, quicker development, quicker market entry
Those who optimise their product development processes win the competition for innovative solutions. Rapid prototyping and its generative processes allow new concepts to be quickly and iteratively realised and tested and easily adapted. Designers and stakeholders can test fully functional prototypes quicker – directly in the application – and provide feedback, eliminating the need for intermediate steps and ensuring that the finished product is ready to go sooner that it would be with conventional prototyping methods.
Economy – less effort, fewer errors, lower costs
Eliminating plant, special tools, and manual effort reduces costs. Rapid prototyping is based on digital models that need not be stored and whose adjustment does not involve additional costs. 3D models from prototypes can be manufactured quickly at low cost as single pieces or small series by specialised service providers who have both the necessary expertise and the various systems required to deliver the best possible result. But prototype construction with the company's own systems can be profitable if they are used often, since the manufacturing time and the costs associated with external services are eliminated. Tests with functional prototypes as early as the development phase greatly reduce the risk of errors during final product manufacture, since design, material, and fit have already been extensively tested by that time.
Flexibility – more design latitude, more optimisation, more innovation
Additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping methods allow implementation of ideas and designs that used to be either completely unthinkable or very difficult to put into practice. This allows innovative solutions to be quickly realised, tested, optimised, and refined until they function as intended. It also opens up many options for material selection, since prototypes can, without much effort, be manufactured from the necessary material or various materials and compared directly with each other in application. It is thus possible to manufacture multiple prototypes of various materials in order to directly map multiple functionalities.
Sustainability – faster processes, less waste, more recycling
Generative manufacturing methods create far less waste than subtractive ones and require less material. While some methods require the creation of supporting structures that must be removed after printing, unused powder for such methods as selective laser sintering can be reused for other prototypes. The time and material saved in rapid prototyping can be used for other projects.
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.