Rapid Manufacturing Guide: Definition, Application, & Benefits

rapid metal manufacturing

Businesses that are steadily growing and need the best possible solutions for delivering products to consumers benefit from rapid manufacturing.

It is a great way to cut down costs and reserve resources that are typically pouring into traditional manufacturing.

But what exactly is rapid manufacturing and how does it work? In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about it. We’ll compare other common processes and weigh the benefits and disadvantages of switching to this type of production.

What is Rapid Manufacturing?

It refers to the various manufacturing processes that are used to produce whole parts, custom products, and low volume production needs. It is also used to produce bridge production items in some cases.

In many cases, traditional manufacturing uses tools and machinery that are very expensive and take extended periods of time to produce an end product. Some common examples of traditional manufacturing include injection molding, forming, and joining. 

On the other hand, rapid manufacturing makes it possible to produce simple to very complex parts and products. But, for significantly less money and less time spent by using software automation and modern technology. The result is efficient, inexpensive, and speedy delivery of completed products.

Rapid Manufacturing vs Rapid Prototyping

Rapid prototyping involves the process of fabricating models of a part or product through computer-aided design. The data from CAD is three-dimensional and can be used to quickly produce a prototype through forms of rapid manufacturing.

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Rapid manufacturing and rapid prototyping are not mutually exclusive. In fact, rapid manufacturing is used for the process of rapid prototyping. Prototypes were actually the main production use case for rapid manufacturing at its first conception. Now, rapid manufacturing is used for creating whole end-user parts and products, not just prototyping.

Still, rapid prototyping is a must-have process to have in place for startups or businesses that constantly develop and redesign their products. This type of prototyping involves the creation of prototypes via CAD data by engineers. 

RP is very fast and makes it easy to execute revisions and redesigns. Many organizations will use this process with sturdy materials that come at a cost decrease to continuously produce prototypes to experiment and test with. It has a great turnaround time for completed products.

Read about our guide in choosing the right rapid prototyping process for you here

Rapid Manufacturing vs Additive Manufacturing

Rapid manufacturing and additive manufacturing rely on one another. All processes of rapid manufacturing rely on the implementation of additive manufacturing (also known as AM) processes in order to make new parts and products. 

Using additive manufacturing technology makes it very easy to create customized items through the use of a CAD model. This is done by adding multiple layers of product until the product is complete. The end result is a fully functioning product or prototype that can be shipped to customers or tested for ongoing redesigns and additional prototyping processes.

Additive manufacturing can be used with a wide range of materials. But, is a particularly popular manufacturing choice for metal parts and plastic-based products and parts. Additive manufacturing makes it possible for designers as well as engineers to generate extremely complex designs. Such designs would be extremely expensive if created via conventional manufacturing methods.

This type of manufacturing is perfect for so many different types of engineering. AM is also great for reducing overall costs when compared to conventional manufacturing. Additive manufacturing is also a popular way to engage in fast prototyping.

Rapid Manufacturing vs Traditional or Conventional Manufacturing

By far the biggest differences between rapid manufacturing and traditional manufacturing come down to cost and time. 

Traditional manufacturing processes are quite outdated and can take quite a long time to complete. These can be a major downfall for businesses who want to deliver top-notch products to their customers in a timely manner, notably faster than their competitors. 

Just as well, businesses that are involved in prototyping need their “test” products produced and delivered to their companies for ongoing prototyping and redesigning in a timely manner. With rapid manufacturing, the use of new technologies makes the production and manufacturing process much faster.

When it comes to cost, these two types of manufacturing differ significantly. The materials used for rapid manufacturing and additive manufacturing are often low-cost. The application of these materials during the manufacturing process requires less labor as well. Traditional engineering requires quite a substantial workforce to keep things going. The cost to keep up older machinery can also tack on more costs to the customer as well.

Several years ago, rapid manufacturing was typically only reserved for prototyping specifically. As the manufacturing industry is evolving towards more technologically advanced tools and machines, rapid engineering is becoming the norm. It’s quick, efficient, and cost-effective in production of parts and whole end products. 

It’s also worth noting that both rapid manufacturing and traditional manufacturing can be used together, depending on your specific use case. While rapid manufacturing is better suited for prototyping, small-batch productions, and custom parts, traditional manufacturing can sometimes be an excellent choice for large-scale production and high-volume parts.

Common Use Cases for Rapid Manufacturing

One might be surprised by all of the potential use cases for rapid manufacturing that span a wealth of industries.

Rapid manufacturing can significantly reduce your resource consumption. Any business owner knows that stick to a budget is vital when it comes to reserving resources and company capital. Traditional manufacturing can be extremely expensive, and the end result can take weeks or months to complete.

With rapid manufacturing, specifically through the application of 3D printing and other types of additive manufacturing, the total volume of materials, time spent manufacturing, cost of professionals needed to complete production, and overall resources are reduced significantly. This is extremely valuable for businesses that are just starting up and may not have the resources in place to invest in costly and time-consuming conventional manufacturing.

When it comes to the prototyping process, many businesses out there need to have products delivered quickly for testing and redesigning. This is especially so for businesses in the medical technology and machinery sectors. With such an intense demand for accurate prototype production delivered in a timely manner, no other form of production can meet the time crunch as rapid manufacturing can.

Another major use case for rapid engineering is the fulfillment of functional products. From vehicle parts to medical devices to other types of machinery, the functional aspects of those products must be perfectly manufacturing. Rapid manufacturing, especially 3D printing, can be performed with additional functionalities and materials in mind to ensure that the end product functions as efficiently as possible. When it comes to developing top-notch performance, rapid manufacturing can be used to improve performance as well as differentiation.

Types of Rapid Manufacturing Process

There are many types of rapid manufacturing that could benefit businesses in a variety of industries.

CNC Machining

This process uses the latest technology to assist businesses with their manufacturing needs. The use of software automation in this process allows for the production of high quality, high precision parts quickly.

Computer numerical control tools, or CNC tools, is a blanket term for any type of subtractive manufacturing process. Materials start as solid chunks of material, such as metal plastic, etc. These chunks of metal are shaped into the end part or product via the removal of material through grinding, sanding, cutting, and drilling.

CNC machining involves using tools that have some sort of rotating platform and a fixated cutting device. One popular type is laser cutting, which uses a laser to cut through hard materials with impeccable precision. Water jet laser cutters and milling machines are also popular types.

This method is a great option for a wide range of materials that might make up your products. These include the aforementioned metals and plastics, as well as wood, stone, glass, composite mixtures, acrylic materials, and extremely hard metals. 

3D Printing

3D printing has seen a serious renaissance in the last decade. The technologies that make 3D printing possible are only continuing to evolve. This additive manufacturing is a process that involves melting and rearranging thermoplastic filaments via a printing device. Essentially, layers of material are laid down from top to bottom until the finished product is complete.

This type of rapid manufacturing involves almost exclusively plastics. But, a variety of different plastics can be used, such as ABS, PLA, and a number of different thermoplastic blends. However, there are other types of 3D printing that uses metals.

Some of the most common type of 3D Printing are Stereolithography (SLA), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Selective Laser Melting (SLM), and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)

Popular with hobby 3D printing artists and industrial companies alike, 3D printing has a wide range of use cases.

Injection Molding

Injection molding process is usually used to produce parts in very large volumes or mass production. Typically, injection molding is used when the same part needs to be made over and over in succession using molds. This could create hundreds, thousands, or millions of identical parts that are relatively simple in complexity.

This method involves heating up the material (usually plastic or metal) until it is in a liquid form. The machine’s nozzle is then inserted into the product molds where the material is injected directly into the shape of the produce. Using injection pressure, the molds are filled with the liquid and then is flash-cooled or left to sit for a moment to let the material re-solidify in the shape of the product. This can be done very, very quickly.

Metal Fabrication

Metal fabrication involves building products, parts, and even machines through with metal-based materials. This type of rapid manufacturing involves the automated use of a variety of processes, including cutting, welding, forming, and machining. 

Typically, metal fabrication is used for creating heavy-duty products as well as small functioning components for parts.

How Do You Choose From Different Manufacturing Processes?

This is a decision that should be made with your designers, engineers, and product design team. Ultimately, your choice will come down to CNC machining, 3D printing, injection molding, and metal fabrication.

CNC machining is ideal if you need a relatively small number of metal parts that are very solid with only a couple of precise incisions that cover the surface of the part. 3D printing, alternatively, is the best possible choice for producing plastic parts that require any form of internal latticed patterns.

Injection molding via rapid manufacturing is ideally used for mass production. If you need to create one single part millions of times one after another with little in the way of complexity, injection molding is the way to go. 

Metal fabrication is a little more flexible. This method of rapid production can be used to mass-produce parts and products, but it can just as well be used to manufacture custom fabricated metal items.

Ultimately, it would be best to brainstorm the best course of action with your relevant teams to ensure that the best possible choice is made.

The Benefits of Rapid Manufacturing

So what are the benefits of rapid manufacturing? There are many, but here are a few of them:

Fast and flexible production. 

A lot of the products that are produced through rapid manufacturing do not require any tooling or molds. This allows for a much faster production time. It also means that you can quickly change your designs to fit consumer demand. For example, if one style is more popular than another, you can switch out your inventory at lightning speed to offer more of the popular style and less of the unpopular.

It’s easier to explore different concepts during prototyping in a speedy manner. Thorough testing and refining of concepts can be done quicker.

By working with a rapid manufacturing company, you’ll be able to communicate a wide range of concepts easily and more effectively. Since rapid manufacturing is a very customizable process, it’s vital to ensure that your designs are made identical right down to the millimeter.

Time and cost efficiencies improve.

One can repeatedly design and incorporate new changes for the purpose of testing new aspects of a product with speed and ease. This is very important in product development for startups that have very narrow deadlines.

You won’t need quite as much inventory in-house. The need for premade parts for replacements is virtually eliminated with speedy production capabilities. To put it simply, the process of manufacturing replacement parts can be done in a few days rather than a few weeks. This is especially the case if you’re outsourcing your production needs to a third-party rapid manufacturing company.

Design flaws can be reduced or eliminated.

The design process is streamlined and focused on specific goals rather than the traditional creative methods that occurs with conventional manufacturing techniques.

Rapid manufacturing is known for using very high-resolution machines to produce exact details. This means there might be fewer flaws or defects in your finished product.

An early prototype will allow for the detection of anomalies and flaws at an earlier stage, which allows a design to be perfected prior to full-scale production.

Overall product quality is improved with less waste material.

Rapid manufacturing enables designers to get their design “just right” before having the number of parts increased, so there’s less wasted material, and 100 percent accuracy in duplicating parts.

You can also produce more consistent end products because of the tight tolerances that are involved.

In-House or Outsource?

There are a number of advantages to having an in-house rapid manufacturing department.

Unfortunately, the costs of hiring an in-house team and purchasing your own equipment can be very expensive. Not only will you have to purchase the equipment and technology needed, but you’ll also need to pay for employee salaries, benefits, onboarding, etc.

Rapid manufacturing is almost always less expensive than traditional manufacturing, but hiring an in-house team could set you back a bit.

Just as well, outsourcing to a third-party company can significantly accelerate how long it takes to get your product to your market. Turnaround times are usually very fast with any form of rapid engineering, but a third-party company can usually take about three days to return models to their clients. A majority of delays that come with product manufacturing come down to the type of manufacturing used and how well-organized and efficient the team doing the manufacturing is.

With an outsourced rapid manufacturing company, this process is virtually guaranteed to come from fast and efficient workforces. They could help you with some design tips, the best manufacturing process and right material for your project.

Hiring your own team might be tricky and not everyone on your team might be a good fit from the initial development of your rapid manufacturing department.

Not sure where to start when it comes to finding an excellent company to outsource your rapid manufacturing needs to? Jiga is here to help.

Rapid Manufacturing with Jiga

Jiga is a B2B marketplace for custom parts manufacturing, including 3D printing, CNC machining, and sheet metal. Our goal at Jiga is to make the process of purchasing custom parts or products as easy as possible.

The Jiga Marketplace puts you in touch with experienced rapid manufacturing experts who can help you pick the right manufacturing process for your prototype. 

You’ll receive expert feedback on your order, without needing to place one first.

We’ll hold your money in escrow to make sure that you only pay for the parts you receive. 

With Jiga, you can quickly and efficiently nail down your rapid prototyping manufacturing needs. We can help you get back on with bringing a game changing product to market.

Book a demo with us today to find out how!

Sheet Metal Roll

Sheet Metal Gauge Chart

Sheet metal gauge (or gage) size numbers refer to the thickness of sheet metal. The higher the gauge, the thinner the sheet metal.

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Rapid Manufacturing Guide: Definition, Application, & Benefits

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