One of the fastest-growing segments of the manufacturing industry is rapid prototyping and small-batch manufacturing. Fueled by technological advancements in CNC manufacturing, 3D printing, and material science, unique parts can be crafted and delivered within ever-shortening time frames, closing down idle time in manufacturing cycles, and enabling manufacturers to move product development along faster.
The global prototype manufacturing industry is currently valued at around $12 billion but is experiencing rapid growth at over 22.6% percent annually from 2010 to 2015.
The prototype manufacturing industry is expected to reach $20 billion in valuation by 2020. Forecasts for the next 15 to 20 years predict growth up to the $40 billion mark, as continued technological innovation fuels the industry — and the markets that rely on it.
Related industries are also experiencing strong, continuous growth, with the 3D printing industry, one technology that has revolutionized rapid prototyping in its own right, predicted to reach an almost $33 billion valuation by 2023.
Industry reliance on rapid prototyping grows
One significant driver of growth within the rapid prototyping industry is the continued development of personal healthcare products. Over 98% of hearing aids produced worldwide are now 3D printed, because of the significant savings in time, cost, and accuracy that comes from producing each unique model in this manner.
As personal medical devices become more widespread, fueled by a growing medical robotics industry, rapid prototyping, and small-batch manufacturing will only become more important, as precise fit for custom assistive robotic devices such as exoskeletons is key to their performance.
In the aviation industry, rapid prototyping through CNC manufacturing and 3D printing has decreased waiting times in production cycles and reduced the costs associated with producing parts of limited quantities, by removing the need for assembly line changes and frequent retooling.
Similar cost-saving benefits have been found in the robotics industry. When producing plastic or aluminum parts or protective casings for initial robot prototypes, manufacturers can place orders for these custom pieces, submit a CAD file, and have them delivered within a week. As a result, prototype testing and checks for proper fit can occur sooner, saving time and money.
Technological development fuels industry growth
3D printing technology is quickly advancing, while continuing to become more affordable, opening up new opportunities for one-piece production that reduces the need for glued parts and improves overall strength. Material technology advances are opening up a wider range of materials in 3D printing, which in turn enables the production of more advanced pieces both faster and cheaper than traditional manufacturing means.
While 3D printing’s influence on the rapid prototyping industry is worth noting, a number of other technologies are also playing their part in moving the industry forward.
CNC manufacturing, in particular, is a process that is bringing greater accuracy to machining, as the entire process is run through the automation of cutting, grinding, and other tasks. CAD models are uploaded into the CNC system, which then determines the necessary processes to machine raw materials such as aluminum, ABS, and other plastics into finished parts.
Since the CNC system handles the decisions about how to machine raw materials into the desired finished product, the chance for error is reduced as all that is required to produce a part is a simple CAD drawing.
Another recent technology that’s improving manufacturing productivity is the use of cloud robotics to monitor machine activity in production facilities. With software able to detect when machines encounter mechanical issues or run out of production materials, downtimes are reduced and productivity and profits are increased.
Pushing the industry forward
One company bringing the latest manufacturing technology and innovations to the rapid prototyping industry is WayKen Rapid Manufacturing. The company specializes in delivering precision prototypes in short timeframes, often delivering completed prototypes in no more than a week from the client’s initial request.
The company handles a variety of materials and manufacturing technologies including CNC Prototype Machining, CNC Aluminum Machining, Clear Optical Prototypes, Rapid Prototyping SLA & SLS, Urethane Vacuum Casting, Prototype Finishing & Painting, and Rapid Injection Molding. This versatility allows them to build prototypes that exactly match the specifications of intended mass-produced products, enabling clients to fully test performance and specifications of their prototypes.
With recent projects for medical companies, technology companies, automotive manufacturers, and much more, WayKen combines experience with the most advanced manufacturing techniques to deliver precision prototypes fast.