The prototyping, and rapid manufacturing and 3D fabrication state of the art is surveyed here:
Currently Rapid Manufacturing (RM) is the technique of creating production-grade parts directly for end-use with rapid prototyping equipment. It can provide speed and lifetime cost benefits over traditional manufacturing techniques, such as injection molding, for some products. Rapid manufacturing, also known as layered or direct digital manufacturing, best serves those customers who need custom or short-run production parts.
One Million dollar rapid manufacturing systems from companies like Optomec can sinter all kinds of metals and rapidly produce working electronics.
Complex metal prototyping including titanium (metal parts produced like those shown above). Using electron beam melting (EBM) technology will allow many manufacturers of medical devices the ability to reduce or eliminate non-digital technologies in the process of taking a design to a fully functional metal part.
3D Systems of Rock Hill, SC, plans to introduce a compact office modeler, the V-Flash, this summer. The 25 X 26 X 27-inch V-Flash desktop modeler will weigh about 100 lbs and have a maximum build volume of 7 X 9 inches and 8 inches tall with standard power requirements. It will be priced at $9,900. (Comparable to sterolithography)
SLA (Stereolithography Apparatus) – Process using photosensitive resins cured by a laser that traces the parts cross sectional geometry layer by layer. SLA produces accurate models with a variety of material choices.
SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) – Process using a CO2 laser to sinter or fuse a powder material. The laser traces the parts cross sectional geometry layer by layer. SLS creates accurate and durable parts but finish out of machine is relatively poor.
FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) – Process using molten plastics or wax extruded by a nozzle that traces the parts cross sectional geometry layer by layer. FDM creates tough parts that are ideal for functional usage.
ZCorp (Z-Corp Three-Dimensional Printing) – Ink-jet based process that prints the parts cross sectional geometry on layers of powder spread on top of each other. This process enables models to be built quickly and affordably. Models may also be printed in color.
PJET (Polyjet) – This process is similar to stereolithography in that parts are made with a photosensitive resin. The difference is in how the resin is applied and cured to build the part.
Evolutionary progress would be to bring down the costs and revamp the processes of the more expensive equipment. The revolutionary approach is molecular manufacturing.
Bringing the costs down of the $1 million systems by 100 to 1000 times is not an inconceivable standard revolution, even without molecular manufacturing. Various laser sintering systems etc..
Instead of carbon dioxide lasers, solid state and fiber lasers using less expensive materials