The Wild World of Rapid Prototyping

E-mail Melanie Martella

I once met a researcher in rapid prototyping at a trade event—what he told me, of advances in medical implants, materials, and manufacturing capabilities was fascinating and inspiring. A quick wander around the Web netted me all kinds of links to rapid prototyping as it is being used today and as it's developing.

The Basics
If you aren't overly familiar with rapid prototyping (beyond a vague, "well, I know you can build things?", take a gander at this link, where you'll find a basic overview and explanation of what it is and what approaches are being used.

Rapid Prototyping Everywhere
There used to be a time when rapid prototyping was something only manufacturers were interested in. No longer. Research teams are exploring its use for prosthetic implants, tissue scaffolds, and an array of other medical uses, where surgeons need to control the shape and structure of what can be very complicated objects. This article from Medical Design, "Finding Fit, Form, Function and Fast," highlights some of the areas it's being used, including as a planning tool for surgeries, For a more technical overview, try this article from the Journal of Indian Prosthodontic Society, "Rapid prototyping in maxillofacial prosthodontics: Basics and applications."

Then we have "Modified ink printer churns out electronic circuits" from the New Scientist Web site, discussing work performed at Leeds University in the UK to print out electronic circuits and circuit boards using less environmentally-hostile materials and methods. Modern electronics currently contain a witches' brew of toxic nasties, and that's before we consider the waste generated from their production.

Here's a fun article from Discovery News, "Print your own house," discussing Dr. Richard Buswell, a lecturer in civil and building engineering at Loughborough University in the U.K., who, with his team, is building a room-sized machine to print walls using rapid prototyping techniques. Another, similar project is underway at the University of Southern California's Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies (CRAFT). Visit the site to view animations and videos of their contour crafting machines, designed to fabricate large-scale parts, layer by layer. (If you want to see the machine in action, here's a link to a YouTube video.

Where do you think this technology will prove most useful? Does anyone know of any rapid prototyping approaches to sensor construction? Scroll down to the bottom of the page to post a comment.

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