PADTInc., a company that provides rapid prototyping services, recently offered this blog about what designers need to know to get the most out of their rapid prototyping investment. This is excellent information, and well worth taking the time to read on their website. The key points are summarized here.
1: Know what you are going to use your prototype for
This is the most important thing for any engineer to know when they are using rapid prototyping.
2: Rapid Prototyping, Direct Digital Manufacturing, 3D Printing: They are all additive manufacturing
3: You will get an exact copy of your STL or CAD file, so make sure it is a good one.
The prototype that you are making is a direct digital copy of the file you ask it to print. None of the processes improve on the geometry you send to them, so it is important that you provide a high quality model.
4: Build orientation has a big impact on cost, surface quality, and strength
5: The amount of material in you part is a big cost driver
6: Part geometry can come from CAD, or a scan
7: Warping and shrinking distortion is above and beyond published machine accuracy
8: Build the full cost or prototyping into your product developments budget
9: You are not stuck with the material color that the part is made with
10: Your prototype can be used as a pattern for casting multiple parts
11: The quoted price of the prototype is just part of the total cost of having a prototype made
12: Take some time to learn the strengths and weaknesses of every available technology