Rapid Prototyping incorporates all of the methods that have exploded over the past 10 years for rapidly bringing ideas to life. The most well known technology at this point is 3D printing, although there are others. 3D Printing allows anyone to either download an object from an online library such as thingiverse or take their own design from Computer Aided Design (CAD) software and print it.
This technology has created a revolution in how we make things. The industry has adopted 3D printing for cutting down time in the product development process by being able to jump to a functional prototype much faster. However this technology has also been adopted by educators, hobbyists and consumers due to its everyday applications. You can now download and print any object you might need quickly, such as a tie hanger, a child-safe outlet cover, or even a coffee mug if you use the right materials. Teachers now can print examples of subjects they are teaching to engage their classrooms. Some examples we have been have been dinosaurs, chemical structures, or examples of inventions from the past. Along with all of these amazing possibilities, 3D printers due have their limitations. Affordable machines are limited to printing in plastic or plastic impregnated with other materials such as metals or wood. In order to work with other materials there is an even more recent revolution which is gaining momentum, them CNC revolution.
CNC machines work in the opposite way of 3D printers. Instead of adding material to build a whole object, they subtract material from a block of wood or other material until what is remaining is the desired object. Affordable CNC machines, specifically CNC routers which take a normally available tool and attach it to a gantry to control its cutting motions with a computer, are still in their infancy. However keep an eye on this field to explode similar to how 3D printers did in the next 3-5 years. New affordable machines have been hitting the market every week ever since the original DIY Shapeoko showed people they could build their own machine and work with not only plastic, but wood, composites, and even aluminum! We are working towards bringing more user friendly kits and out-of-the-box ready to go machines to the affordable price points that 3D printers are currently dropping to.