Today we bring you a great infographic and video about 3D Printing. View both the video and inforgraphic below. from our friends over at Shapeways. Founded in 2007, Shapeways is led by folks who’ve spent most of their careers in startups, and combine serious technical chops with an inspiring vision of what the world could be. We’re bringing together a passionate, dynamic team of game changers. We’re having a great time working and playing harder than we ever have in our lives. It doesn’t hurt to know that what we do is changing the future as we know it.

Headquartered in New York, Shapeways has factories and offices in Eindhoven, Queens, and Seattle. Shapeways is a spin-out of the lifestyle incubator of Royal Philips Electronics.

If you have followed our blog previously, you have seen us blog about 3D Printing. You can view all the 3D Printing blog posts in the category here. Our goal is to stay abreast and keep readers abreast of all the latest trends which affect the manufacturing industry. 

In the same way, Shapeways’s goal is to educate users about the rapid prototyping uses and additive manufacturing process of 3D printing that are explained in the infographic and video below.

What is Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid prototyping is a group of techniques used to quickly fabricate a scale model of a physical part or assembly using three-dimensional computer aided design (CAD) data. Construction of the part or assembly is usually done using 3D printing or “additive layer manufacturing” technology. Rapid prototyping is the speedy creation of a full-scale model. The word prototype comes from the Latin words proto (original) and typus (model).

In manufacturing, rapid prototyping is used to create a three-dimensional model of a part or product. In addition to providing 3-D visualization for digitally rendered items, rapid prototyping can be used to test the efficiency of a part or product design before it is manufactured in larger quantities. Testing may have more to do with the shape or size of a design, rather than its strength or durability, because the prototype may not be made of the same material as the final product. Today, prototypes are often created with additive layer manufacturing technology, also known as 3-D printing. Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) may also be used to create aluminum, stainless steel or titanium prototypes. This process uses laser beams to melt and fuse metal powders into solid parts.

In network design, rapid prototyping can be used to map the architecture for a new network.  A rapid prototype tool called Mininet, for example, allows the user to quickly create, interact with, customize and share a software-defined network (SDN) prototype on a single computer which simulates a network topology that uses Openflow switches.

What is Additive Manufacturing?

Additive Manufacturing refers to a process by which digital 3D design data is used to build up a component in layers by depositing material. The term “3D printing” is increasingly used as a synonym for Additive Manufacturing.

Additive Manufacturing refers to a process by which digital 3D design data is used to build up a component in layers by depositing material. The term “3D printing” is increasingly used as a synonym for Additive Manufacturing. However, the latter is more accurate in that it describes a professional production technique which is clearly distinguished from conventional methods of material removal. Instead of milling a work piece from solid block, for example, Additive Manufacturing builds up components layer by layer using materials which are available in fine powder form. A range of different metals, plastics and composite materials may be used.

The technology has especially been applied in conjunction with Rapid Prototyping – the construction of illustrative and functional prototypes. Additive Manufacturing is now being used increasingly in Series Production. It gives Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) in the most varied sectors of industry the opportunity to create a distinctive profile for themselves based on new customer benefits, cost-saving potential and the ability to meet sustainability goals.


The strengths of Additive Manufacturing lie in those areas where conventional manufacturing reaches its limitations. The technology is of interest where a new approach to design and manufacturing is required so as to come up with solutions. It enables a design-driven manufacturing process – where design determines production and not the other way around. What is more, Additive Manufacturing allows for highly complex structures which can still be extremely light and stable. It provides a high degree of design freedom, the optimization and integration of functional features, the manufacture of small batch sizes at reasonable unit costs and a high degree of product customization even in serial production.

Functional Principle

The system starts by applying a thin layer of the powder material to the building platform. A powerful laser beam then fuses the powder at exactly the points defined by the computer-generated component design data. The platform is then lowered and another layer of powder is applied. Once again the material is fused so as to bond with the layer below at the predefined points. Depending on the material used, components can be manufactured using stereolithography, laser sintering or 3D printing. 

Our Favorite Shapeways Product

Because this Marketing Manager is an avid FitBitter, my favorite item from the Shapeways market is the Watchband Holder for Fitbit Flex – Pebble Version. It’s a pretty cool alternative to the Flex wristband that comes from the original purchase. 

INFOGRAPHIC: How Rapid Prototyping & Additive Manufacturing Processes work in 3D Printing


3D printing or additive manufacturing has been around for decades.  But it hasn’t been until the last five years that the hype has exceeded the reality of what this technology can do.  After reading many articles from industry insiders, we’ve collected some key takeaways on the current and future trends for this manufacturing technique.

Where Additive Manufacturing Really Shines

Complex shapes – Many 3D printers can replicate fairly complex geometries and shapes.  This ability has opened a whole new world of possibilities in the medical field.  Today, many universities and researchers are experimenting with creating artificial limbs and organs using this technology.  Companies like Organovo, are using 3D to bio-print tissue to be used in research applications.  Universities are working on organ replacement trials.  One research lab created titanium jawbone implant using 3D.

Prototyping – Although additive manufacturing has been used in this capacity for a long time, today there is a more robust platform to produce prototypes in various materials and with greater precision.  Higher end printers are also capable of low-volume part manufacturing.

Availability – From a consumer standpoint, 3D printing is becoming more accessible.  In fact, Staples Office Supply recently announced that they would be adding 3D printers to many of their locations. Cubify and Makerbot have created at-home versions of these printers as well.

Software – Advances in CAD software and 3D imaging have helped uncomplicated the design process.  Don’t get me wrong, it still isn’t easy to design from scratch, but the applications are becoming more intuitive.  A few companies are offering libraries of files that can be used to create objects of all kinds.   File sharing sites like Thingiverse, created by Makerbot, one of leading edge companies that developed desktop 3D printers and scanners, encourages designers to upload and share their files.  Even the government has joined the fun with a website called NIH 3D Print Exchange where you can find, share and create 3D files that relate to biology and the human body.

The Downside to Additive Manufacturing Technology

Technical limitations – Carl Bass, the president and chief executive officer of Autodesk, Inc., a maker of professional 3D design software and consumer applications, said in a recent article, “Just as the microwave didn’t replace all other forms of cooking as initially predicted, 3D printing will not replace other manufacturing technologies, let alone industrial-scale ones.  It will complement them.”  The current technology is not fast enough to replace high-speed manufacturing processes, and it lack flexibility in material use.

The software and design tools needed to create a 3D file are still far too complex for an average user.  You must know design and engineering to build a CAD file that will translate into a usable prototype or part.

The technology has not yet advanced to create articulated prototypes.  Each component must be separately printed and assembled.  In addition, the creation of these parts can take some time.  According to one expert, it can take several hours up to a few days to complete the process.



Cost – Like another fad, the bread machine, once people figured out it cost a great deal more to make bread from a mix in their machine not to mention the time, the appliance went into storage.  3D printers are not cost effective in most manufacturing situations.  The materials can be expensive, so producing a large part can raise the cost exponentially.  Industry insider and founder of 3DPrintUK Nick Allen describes it this way “Cost is based on the material used, so big things are expensive and small things are cheap.  So producing anything in bulk that is bigger than your fist seems to be a waste of time”.

Materials – The materials used in process of additive manufacturing are still very limited.  It has expanded to include metals and ceramics, but, for the most part, plastics are the material most commonly used.  Most machines cannot currently overmold or print two materials like plastic and metal together.   Stratasys does sell a dual material printer, but the two materials are both polymer based.  This printer is particularly useful in complex prototype applications.

Speed – If you have ever attended a trade show featuring one of these printers, they draw a crowd.  And you can return two hours later to see the same part still processing.  The speed (or lack of speed) is just a function of the way 3D printing works.  In this process, layers of material are gradually added to create the part.  The larger and more complex the part, the longer the process takes.  There are companies that are working on this problem, but it will generally apply to industrial applications.

Strength and finish – The layers of material create stratification.  When you have stratification, you also have a part that doesn’t have the strength of a solid molded piece.  This process also creates a surface finish that is rough and must go through additional processing to obtain the desired feel.

Additive Manufacturing: Summing it All Up

The Rodon Group and our sister company, K’NEX have been using 3D technology for years to create prototypes and product variations as part of our design process.  Everyone believes this technology has great potential in the future.  However, it will probably never reach the economies of scale that you get from manufacturing processes such as injection molding.  According to Rodon’s Sr. Vice President of Manufacturing, Lowell Allen “We think additive manufacturing provides a great compliment to what we do for our customers.  And the technology is getting better every day.  While it may never replace injection molding, it certainly will make designing, prototype testing, and smaller production runs cheaper and available to more product developers and entrepreneurs.”

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