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Design & Technology

Manufacturing processes

Rapid prototyping

Rapid prototyping involves using a CNC machine to make a working model of a part directly from a CAD program. It can produce complicated 3D shapes, although the material used is often not what would be used in large-scale production. Rapid prototypes are normally used to evaluate a design, but they can be used for enclosures.

There are a range of different rapid-prototyping processes: typically they involve building up a product by depositing layer after layer of material. It often takes many hours, or even days, to produce a part. They are only suitable for making one-off products where cost is not an important factor.

Selective laser sintering

sculpture manufactured by SLS - selective laser sintering

Sculpture manufactured by selective laser sintering

A laser is used to melt a cross section of the design in a layer of powdered material. This hardens on top of previous layers, slowly building up the shape. The individual layers are incredibly thin: there might be several million in the final item.

3D printing

Layers of a material are built up into a 3D solid. The most common materials used are wax, starch or some thermoplastics. Complex shapes can be created.


Stereolithography uses a laser to scan a bath of photosensitive resin. As the laser scans across the surface of the liquid, it solidifies the cross section of the design and then moves to the next layer. The 3D model is built up below the surface of the liquid.

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