What is 3D Printing and Rapid Prototyping?
3-Dimensional (3D) printing refers to a manufacturing process that builds layers of material to create a three-dimensional solid object from a digital model. It is also known as additive manufacturing (AM) or direct digital manufacturing (DDM).
To print a 3-D object, the manufacturer uses a 3-D computer-aided design (CAD) program to create a digital model that gets sliced into very thin cross-sections called layers. The 3-D printer starts at the bottom of the design and builds up successive layers of material until the final product is finished. In principle, this "additive" process minimizes waste because it only uses the amount of material necessary to make the component and is distinct from traditional "subtractive" manufacturing processes where materials are cut away to produce a desired form.
Rapid prototyping technology incorporates a series of techniques that can quickly fabricate a scale model of a part or assembly. This can significantly decrease product development time by allowing cost effective corrections to be made through a more flexible design process which incorporates fast and efficient communication/flow of ideas that result in better end products.
Rapid-prototyping technology could be harnessed to improve livelihoods in developing countries by allowing novel local manufacturing systems (including in rural areas) to be developed, ideally based on locally available materials and local level design and innovation. Access to robust and cost-effective rapid prototyping could provide allow rural enterprises to more rapidly develop new products, to build their capacity and sustain their businesses. Rapid-prototyping via 3D printing has some potential to enable developing economies to create a new manufacturing model that overcomes their deficit in traditional manufacturing infrastructure and some of the constraints facing manufacturing value chains in developing economies. Rapid-prototyping approaches can offer developing countries a cost effective opportunity to decentralize innovation processes, and tailor production to better meet local needs.