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The Use Of Rapid Prototype Models In Mechanical Design Courses

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Curriculum Development and Applications

Tagged Division

Engineering Design Graphics

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1262.1 - 14.1262.7



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Paper Authors

author page

Holly Ault Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Use of Rapid Prototype Models in Mechanical Design Courses (or “How Much Should We Spend for a RP Machine?”)


In recent years, rapid prototyping (RP) equipment has become widely available. The decreasing costs as well as the ease of operation of these machines make them well suited to the university environment. The most commonly used machines in academia include fused deposition modelers and powder-based 3D printers. In spite of the fairly modest cost of these RP machines, the decision to utilize RP technology in the classroom should be based on a thorough assessment of both cost and benefits. Students will be using these tools in industry and should become familiar with their capabilities. Moreover, the ability to create and manipulate physical models and/or functional prototypes can enhance student learning in many aspects of mechanical design. This paper explores the use of rapid prototypes in a variety of courses as presented in the literature, in addition to the author’s experience with a junior-level advanced CAD course for mechanical engineering students and senior design projects. The discussion will focus on the learning objectives that can be achieved using design projects facilitated by the manufacture of rapid prototypes, advantages and disadvantages of RP, and unique features of RP that can be used to enhance the students’ understanding of engineering concepts.


Rapid Prototyping is a manufacturing method that is based on additive, freeform fabrication methods. The prototypes are constructed by the addition of successive thin layers of material to the model. The cross-sections of the object are obtained from 3D CAD solid models. RP models are typically used in industry for form, fit and functional analysis as well as concept visualization2. In addition, RP models can be used as patterns for conventional manufacturing methods such as casting.

Development of the Rapid Prototyping (RP) process began in the 1960s; the first commercially available RP machines were sold in the late 1980s at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars. By the mid to late 1990s, low cost desktop 3D printers were available for as little as $20-35,0001; these machines are now available for less than half that cost. Thus, the cost of purchasing a RP machine is not beyond the reach of the university, or even some secondary schools. The question now is which technology to use, and how to incorporate it into the curriculum.

Low Cost RP Technologies

There is a variety of RP technologies, including stereolithography (SLA), selective laser sintering (SLS), layered object manufacturing (LOM), fused deposition modeling (FDM), and powder binder printing(PDP)2. While the original laser-based technologies are expensive and require high maintenance of the equipment, the newer FDM and powder-based printers are considered to be essentially plug-in desktop peripheral devices. This alleviates previous problems with “care and feeding” of early machines, making these newer machines easier to use and more suitable for the academic environment.

Ault, H. (2009, June), The Use Of Rapid Prototype Models In Mechanical Design Courses Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5155

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