the material additive processes lead fastest to moldings and are therefore the most promising. These also include new and further in RP. Examples of such techniques are laser sintering, laser-generated RP and stereolithography, which enable mold inserts to be made directly from a three-dimensional CAD model of the desired mold. RT also covers metal spraying, which has been used for decades in the mold making.
Master molding techniques like precision and resin casting may be considered as belonging to RT. These process chains become repaid tooling techniques when an RP technique is used to produce the necessary master mold.
The most common term for additive fabrication is rapid prototyping. The term “rapid” is used because additive processes are performed much faster than conventional manufacturing processes. The fabrication of a single part may only take a couple hours, or can take a few days depending on the part size and the process. However, processes that require custom tooling, such as a mold, to be designed and built may require several weeks. Subtractive processes, such as machining, can offer more comparable production times, but those times can increase substantially for highly complex parts. The term “prototyping” is used because these additive processes were initially used solely to fabricate prototypes. However, with the improvement of additive technologies, these processes are becoming increasingly capable of high-volume production manufacturing, as will be explored in the section on applications.
Additive fabrication offers several advantages, listed below.
Speed – As described above, these “rapid” processes have short build times. Also, because no custom tooling must be developed, the lead time in receiving parts is greatly reduced.
Part complexity – Because no tooling is required, complex surfaces and internal features can be created directly when building the part. Also, the complexity of a part has little effect on build times, as opposed to other manufacturing processes. In molding and casting processes, part complexity may not affect the cycle times, but can require several weeks to be spent on creating the mold. In machining, complex features directly affect the cycle time and may even require more expensive equipment or fixtures.
Material types – Additive fabrication processes are able to produce parts in plastics, metals, ceramics, composites, and even paper with properties similar to wood. Furthermore, some processes can build parts from multiple materials and distribute the material based on the location in the part.
Low-volume production – Other more conventional processes are not very cost effective for low-volume productions because of high initial costs due to custom tooling and lengthy setup times. Additive fabrication requires minimal setup and builds a part directly from the CAD model, allowing for low per-part costs for low-volume productions.
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