There are many ways and processes that can produce a quality prototype. However, depending on what your prototype will be and what characteristics of production you want to prioritize, there may be only one process that will best fit your product.
Rapid-Prototyping and Thermoforming are two different types of prototype manufacturing and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Read on to find out…
What is Rapid-Prototyping?
Rapid-Prototyping is a term used to describe a fast fabrication process. It usually consists of computer-aided data and design (CAD) for assembly through 3D printing and/or additive layer manufacturing. Rapid-Prototyping is used to create and test certain features of a potential product to optimize certain aspects like size, shape, functionality, and so on. The 3d printing process is not normally fit for real world functionality. An example of this would be…Ask a manufacturer of the actual 3d printing machine how many components on their machine are 3d printed. The answer will be ‘None”. The most common material used in this process is a versatile plastic like Nylon 12. Alternatives to the 3D printing process include laser cutting, CNC machines, and Polyjet injections.
Pros of Rapid-Prototyping:
- User involvement
- Fast design and development time
- Relatively easy design changes
- Mimics Injection molding features
Cons of Rapid-Prototyping:
- Reduced strength and surface finish when compared to other types of manufacturing
- Limited in scope as compared to Thermoforming. Generally, Rapid-Prototyping is most useful and cost-effective for smaller-scale projects
- User confusion as it can be mistaken for the final product
- Printed parts are not generally fit for real world use
- Limited material choices
What is Thermoforming?
Thermoforming uses thick and/or thin gauge plastic sheets. The sheet is heated to a pliable temperature and then using vacuum and pressure the sheet is formed over or into a mold. There are many different types of Thermoforming processes, some of which include: In-line or roll fed vacuum forming (for thin gauge), Heavy gage vacuum or pressure forming, and twin sheet vacuum forming. Each has its own advantages; however, all types of Thermoforming used for prototyping generally come with the same pros and cons.
Pros of Thermoforming:
- Capable of producing large parts
- Low-cost production tooling
- Quick turnaround times
- Design modifications are quick and inexpensive
- Wide variety of material choices
- Surface quality is superior
Cons of Thermoforming:
- Limited to plastic sheets
- Only one surface of the part is controlled by the mold
- Requires more material
- The thickness of the product may be unevenly distributed
Which One is Best For You?
Both Thermoforming and Rapid-Prototyping are exceptional types of manufacturing that can create quality prototypes in a time-efficient manner. However, depending on what kind of prototype you need, one might be better than the other. As an example, if you need a larger piece, Thermoforming is better for you. On the other hand, if you need a complex, injection-molded type part, then Rapid-Prototyping may be the best choice.
Grand Canyon Plastics
At Grand Canyon Plastics, we have led the industry of pressure-formed plastics manufacturing in Phoenix, Arizona for over 40 years. Our equipped facility and dedicated service allow our clients to receive outstanding thermoformed prototypes in a cost-effective and timely manner.
Contact us today or schedule a free consultation to learn more about our different processes and services.