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Rapid prototyping

Rapid prototyping provides a cost-effective approach, enabling product design and engineering teams to obtain valuable aesthetic and functional feedback early in development.

Image from customer, Iterate UK, showing a consumer product design team at work in their studio. Includes electronics, 3D printing, sketching, and simulation.

What is rapid prototyping?

Rapid prototyping commonly uses 3D printing to quickly create scale models or assemblies based on digital designs, most commonly from 3D CAD files. The ability to quickly develop and refine physical prototypes gives engineers actionable feedback from collaborators in a fast and cost-effective manner. Industrial designers and partners may use rapid prototyping to evaluate aesthetics and ergonomics for user testing, and engineers might provide input on a prototype’s material properties and performance. Other collaborators may validate the rapid prototypes for manufacturability and usability before production.

Fusion customer, Whill, generatively designs electric wheelchairs (PEV's: Personal Electric Vehicles). Whill engineers photographed at the Yokohama Joint Research Center in Yokohama, Japan. Generatively designed part designed in Fusion and 3d-printed prototype is shown.

Product design and rapid prototyping for manufacturing

Rapid prototyping has become indispensable in product design, allowing for swift transformations of digital concepts into tangible models. This quick realization facilitates immediate feedback, helping identify potential design shortcomings and ensuring a smoother transition from ideation to production.

Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, has revolutionized rapid prototyping by providing a cost-effective and efficient means to produce complex designs. Its ease-of-use approach accelerates prototype creation, enabling designers to iterate faster and respond promptly to design challenges.

CNC machining complements rapid prototyping by delivering precision and specified surface finish, especially for components demanding tight tolerances or specific materials. It offers a blend of speed and accuracy, ensuring that prototypes are functional and refined.


Image from customer, Iterate UK, showing a consumer product design team at work in their studio. Includes electronics, 3D printing, sketching, and simulation.

Rapid prototype development

With in-house 3D printers, rapid prototyping can fall into a 24-hour cycle in which designers work on a 3D CAD model during the workday, 3D print the prototype parts overnight, and test and tweak the prototype’s design the next day. This efficient cadence enables engineering teams to integrate actionable feedback from clients and collaborators, moving each iteration closer to the product’s final form.

This feedback cycle helps developers identify and fix design problems before gearing up for production runs. The freedom to test many product iterations also liberates engineers to explore design concepts with low risk.

Rapid prototype development can follow several stages, where the prototype advances in complexity and physical properties. In the early product-development stages, proof-of-concept (PoC) prototypes help validate concepts and show a product’s viability. Looks-like prototypes can demonstrate the ergonomics and user experience of a potential final product without having the final product’s complete functionality. Works-like prototypes may not look just like the final product but possess the same functionality and properties of the final product mechanically, thermally, and electrically. Lastly, engineering prototypes combine looks-like and works-like characteristics into a final preproduction prototype designed for manufacturing (DfM) and minimally viable for lab testing.