(PDF) 3D Printing for the Rapid Prototyping of Structural Electronics

(pdf) 3d printing for the rapid prototyping of structural electronics

E. Macdonald et al.: 3D Printing for the Rapid Prototyping of Structural Electronics

prototype. This translates into significant time savings in time

to market.

To compare the two existing cases to a hypothetical auto-

mated system, if one were to build the same SL substrate

without any of the components, the build time would only

be about 6 hours. This provides a base line for an automated

system, which would require integrating additional manufac-

turing activities for the placement and routing of components.

The build time would increase by some amount required to

integrate the electronics and this time would be design depen-

dent – where designs with complex substrates and simple

electronics (e.g. button and LED in a large structure) would

spend a larger fraction of time fabricating the dielectric,

while other designs that had complex electronics and simple

substrates would be reversed. If the first case added 25% to

the manufacturing time and the second case tripled the time

(300%), then the time to part would range from 7.5 hours to

18 hours depending on the design complexity – significantly

less – in either case — than the traditional approach at a

minimum of 120 hours.

Finally, as an anecdotal comment, the 3D printed version

was overwhelmingly received more favorably than the tradi-

tionally manufactured version – possibly due to the color, or

the surface finish, or the modern appearance of the electronics

flush to the external surface. Without a doubt, 3D printing

currently has captured the imagination of popular culture

today, and consequently, the 3D printed die version has a more

intangible attractive quality (e.g. je ne sais quoi).


This paper describes an enhanced 3D printing technology

that by printing multifunctional prototypes can dramatically

reduce the total time of the design cycle for an electronic

device. An example case study is provided of four gen-

erations of a novelty electronic gaming die. The process,

which includes building dielectric substrates using 3D print-

ing, is enhanced with other complementary manufacturing

technologies such as conductor embedding and component

pick and place. By interrupting the 3D printing process

and integrating electronics functionality into the structure,

rapidly-developed, high-fidelity prototypes can be fabricated

in order to capture and evaluate form, fit and functionality



The research presented here was conducted at The University

of Texas at El Paso within the W. M. Keck Center for 3D

Innovation (Keck Center). Through funding from the State of

Texas Emerging Technology Fund, the Keck Center recently

expanded to over 13,000 sq. ft., housing state-of-the-art facil-

ities and equipment for additive manufacturing processes,

materials, and applications. The authors are grateful to Elaine

Maestas, Cesar Soto, and Luis Bañuelos for their participation

and contribution. The findings and opinions presented in this

paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect

those of the sponsors of this research.


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VOLUME 2, 2021241

Additive manufacturing vs 3d printing vs rapid prototyping

To make things clear, 3D printing and additive manufacturing can be used interchangeably. Conversely, there is a commonly perceived difference between 3D printing and additive manufacturing. 3D printing is a term often used by media and general public, while additive manufacturing is a word frequently used by professionals in the industrial sectors.

3D printing is the right word to use when describing the process, but using additive manufacturing is more precise. Whereas, rapid prototyping is one of the applications that is used 3D printing or additive manufacturing technology to create new products.

Additive manufacturing vs subtractive manufacturing

Nowadays, additive manufacturing plays an important role in the growth of product development. It does not only build products fast, but also makes the manufacturing process more innovative and cost-effective.

Additive Manufacturing or AM is a suitable name to describe the technology that is used in building 3D objects by adding materials layer by layer. The term “additive” refers to the method of adding and building the product repeatedly.

Additive manufacturing is an opposite method of subtractive manufacturing. Subtractive manufacturing is a process in which 3D objects are constructed by cutting materials through a standard machining process such as drilling or milling. It is also called the traditional manufacturing and used in CNC machining.

Complexity of the printing method

Using 3D printing requires less or even minimal training (depending on the complexity of components and supporting structures needed) compared to using rapid prototyping machines. With rapid prototyping, parameters are not so simple to adjust.

However, with 3D printing, it is possible to create parts right out of the box. Again depending on required accuracy of components. The higher the accuracey the long it takes to print a component. Creating 3D drawings tends to be the hold up for 3D printing but once a drawing is created producing parts are cheap, fast and easily repeated at any time.

Create competitive and cost-efficient models

Hand-in-hand with speeding time-to-market is the reduction of costs associated with lengthy design cycles. Getting a product to market faster will inherently reduce the hefty price of longer, more tooling-intensive traditional workflows. Competitive positioning requires that development and introduction be quick, especially in the consumer market.

Defining 3d printing and rapid prototyping

3D printing is a manufacturing process which takes a digital 3D model and turns it into a physical object. In this process, a material is fabricated using a print head, nozzle or other printing technology.

Ideal for business on demand and large objects

Currently there are companies dedicated only to large scale models or small product runs since the prototype is usually so stable and well made that it can serve itself as a final product or manufacturing method in low runs.

Material choices

3D printing systems do not provide a wide range of material options unlike rapid prototyping. Even though the list of materials for 3D printing is advancing, it is not as available as rapid prototyping.

3D printing is limited to PVC and other plastic materials. Nevertheless, with the advancement of technology, materials such as ceramics may fully be available for 3D printing in the future.

Perfect for creating complex objects

Machining or injection molding usually has many handicaps such as the creation of internal roundings or gaps. With conventional 3D prototyping this is over: you can make whatever you want with the form you want, leaving aside the CAM and focusing on the CAD.


There is a significant difference between the cost of 3D printing and rapid prototyping. From machine depreciation, materials to be used, labour, system maintenance, etc. Rapid prototyping technology can cost twice as much as 3D printing.

Moreover, maintaining a 3D printer can range to approximately a few thousand dollars per year. It is much cheaper compared to maintaining a rapid prototyping system which can cost up to $10,000 annually.

Rapid design prototyping

This type of rapid prototyping is used to see how the product will look aesthetically: curves, straight lines, holes that could go wrong; not only in a visual sense, but also ergonomic.

Rapid geometry prototyping

This type of prototyping refers to a spatial and purely geometric use. This means that the manufacturers will use it when they want to see couplings of some objects within others, if there is geometric agreement, or just the form.

It is very useful in the adjustment of manufacturing tolerances, since two connected products have to ‘match’ to be able to fit into each other. This point is vital to have it under control since otherwise a percentage of the lot could simply result useless, with the losses that this represents.

Selective laser sintering (sls), without supports

SLS is another rapid prototyping technique that also creates the part in layers (3D printing), but this time through the fusion of powders, which will melt, creating a very strong agglomerate. The final material will depend on the type of powders used: metals, plastics, ceramics or even glass.

To melt these powders you need a very powerful laser beam. This beam, through a three-dimensional computer generated file, runs layer by layer the bed of powders, agglomerating them and gradually creating the object. When a layer is melted, the bed generates a new layer to melt.

The most popular feature of this type of manufacturing is that there is no need for supports on the parts, as the powder bed itself supports the part. Once the sintering is finished, the part will be taken out of the bucket, removing all the remaining dust covering it and leaving a perfectly finished part.

Its manufacturing tolerance is also between 75 and 100 microns, similar to SLA manufacturing, but without the inconvenience of the supports. The finishing of the parts however is rough and porous rather than completely smooth.

Within the SLS the most widespread technique is the manufacture with polyamide powder (nylon). This is a technology that adapts very well to the manufacture of short series and functional parts because it is one of the most economical within 3D printing and because it produces very resistant parts.

Sometimes you have to extrapolate the mechanical properties

Sometimes we have parts that cannot be manufactured directly with rapid prototyping, especially because that material is incompatible with it. To do this we will have to resort to mathematical formulas to extrapolate mechanical properties of our prototype to the final part.

Technical rapid prototyping

Finally there is the technical type prototyping that is used to see all the functions that our final production part will have. With it, the final product tests will be done and the part will be adjusted as many times as necessary; this stage of the design being always the last one.

They consist of several parts and the quality of prototyping is usually better, because it is the one that has to be adjusted to the aesthetic and mechanical properties of the final product. This last point is very important, and if it could not be carried out directly (due to the difference in material between prototype and final product), its properties would be extrapolated through mathematical formulas.

What do you think of our rapid prototyping article?

First of all, we wanted to congratulate you for getting here –few do– and ask you to leave in the comment box what you thought of the article. In Bitfab we take into account the opinion of our readers and we would love to hear yours.

Prototyping in 3D is something that companies should consider before making a new product run, and being advised by a good team of people can save us a lot of money and many headaches.

Now you only have to decide on one, pass your 3D file to us (or ask us for a quote) and start creating the new prototypes of your products.

Once again, thank you for reaching this far. We’ll see you on the next post.

What is rapid prototyping

Rapid Prototyping or RP is an application used in additive manufacturing to create a model faster than the normal process. Rapid prototyping is mainly completed using 3D printing or additive manufacturing technology.

From the definitions above, they show that 3D printing and Rapid prototyping are two similar terms being used in different industries. Furthermore, here are other components that make them different.

What is rapid prototyping, when is it used and what applications does it have?

Rapid prototyping is a process by which we create objects with similar characteristics to others (shape, mechanical strength, color) in order to test our product before releasing it to the market easily and cheaply. Its use is generally industrial and prior to making several series of products.

We can use a fast prototype in the first development stages of a project. For example, creating a prototype of a metal piece to fit a tool usually costs a few hundred euros and hours in the workshop. With rapid prototyping (3D printing, laser, CNC…) we can have our prototype ready the same day and for less than half the price.

Its applications are diverse, from prosthetics in medicine or the dental sector, car parts in large print runs, production of objects for marketing or even for the manufacture and testing of parts in the aerospace sector.

Best of all, today there are flexible manufacturing technologies that combine rapid prototyping and short series. That is to say, using some of the techniques that we are going to talk about in this article, you will be able to produce from the first prototype to the first test runs, production and marketing of your product.

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