Original Date: 04/26/1999
Revision Date: 01/18/2007
Information : Rapid Prototyping
Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) is successfully using Rapid Prototyping (RP) technology to fabricate engineering concept models. More than just a 2-D drawing or printout, RP models combine the benefits of conventional prototyping and automated fabrication processes to produce a physical 3-D model of the actual design concept. These models have faster turnaround times and are less expensive to produce than conventionally machined models. Traditionally, solid models were created by using commonplace methods such as hand carving, manual machining, and/or the use of computer numerical control machine tools. Though successful, these methods are labor intense and require more time and skill than RP techniques. Models that usually took days or weeks to produce are now being completed in a few hours. In addition, the design engineer gets to see, hold, and examine the concept part much earlier in the design stages, thereby reducing costly rework of mating parts and assemblies due to design changes.
Since implementing RP technology, MSFC has immediately realized many benefits. One example involves investment casting patterns for three engine chambers. After the Center fabricates these patterns, an on-site contractor uses them to produce an Inconel 718 casting for each engine chamber. By using RP techniques, the fabricated patterns and castings cost about $3,500 each. MSFC estimates the cost at $30,000 each, if done using forged and machined parts. RP techniques enabled these products to be delivered and instrumented for hot-fire testing within four weeks, compared to 16 weeks using conventional methods. The overall savings on this project alone amounts to $79,500.
RP technology significantly reduces the cost and time to develop solid models and evaluate their form, fit, and performance prior to manufacturing the finished part. With MSFC’s unique RP capabilities, the need for mock-ups and other intermediate steps (required to produce flight quality products) are being phased out as new materials are developed and larger size parts become more feasible to produce.
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