Unlike traditional prototyping which may take weeks or months to complete, rapid prototyping is the quick, computer generated prototyping done to give users a general feel for a product. It allows for users to have a relatively short time between development and customer feedback, and allows the manufacturer the opportunity to make changes early in the development process. Rapid prototyping can include a simple quick sketch or an interactive computer simulation that allows the user to begin critiquing and provide feedback to improve the product. It can be completed for a portion of a product or the entire process, depending on the manufacturer’s needs and desires.

The process of rapid prototyping uses three dimensional CAD (computer aided design) data. It uses the technology of a 3D printer and reads the data of a cross sectional drawing. It then begins to layer sheet metal, powder or liquid to build the prototype. The pieces are then assembled to form the product. With the use of the technology, a prototype can be produced within several hours, getting the product quickly to a testing phase.

Rapid prototyping allows for fast communication of design ideas, essential methods of testing and revising, fewer flaws in production and a better overall product. The relatively new technology was first used in 1992, and has quickly become the standard in quality product development. Companies that handle the prototyping process for developers have sprung up as more and more applications for prototyping are discovered. The push for rapid prototyping is crossing industries, and has found users in business and hobby applications.

When companies are developing new products, updating or making structural changes in a product it can be helpful to have a test model. Technological advances such as the CAD design have made it possible for more companies to pre-market test their products easily and inexpensively.