RP's Impact Worldwide

Terry Wohlers

Presented at the 28th Symposium on Automotive Technology and Automation (ISATA) Conference,
held September 18-22, 1995, in Stuttgart, Germany.
Copyright 1995 by Wohlers Associates

Rapid prototyping (RP) is dramatically impacting the way products are designed and manufactured. RP may well be the most important invention since CAD solid modeling. The two technologies are complimentary, and when you put them together, manufacturing companies gain a strong competitive edge. Significant market growth, coupled with a wide range of applications, are evidence that the automotive industry is embracing the technology.

Growth continues at an impressive rate

RP is as hot as Cajun cook'in. The technology has progressed from being a cure for no known disease to cure for every known disease.

Last year, unit sales of RP systems grew by 84%. More systems were sold last year than in '92 and '93 combined.

Revenues from product sales and services grew by nearly 100% to $198 million, excluding revenues from tooling and duplicate parts. RP's real impact is being felt at the companies using the technology.

CAD and RP

CAD and RP help sell one another.

RP forces you to use 3D CAD and it helps you justify the added expense of installing CAD solid modeling.

Virtual prototyping? CAD is a form of VP. Think of a CAD model as a soft prototype, ... and the RP part as the hard prototype.

Service bureaus

The number of SBs has grown to more than 250 companies worldwide, according to Denton & Company (Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, USA).

This is the most dynamic part of the RP industry, with considerable experience and expertise. Prototype Express (Schaumburg, Illinois, USA) has produced 14,000 RP parts and expects to exceed $6 million this year.

RP part-making business: $95 million last year.

Tooling and duplicate parts from RP patterns: $83 million last year.

Total RP and related work from SBs in '94: $178 million estimated, which represents 63% of all RP revenues generated last year.

Metal castings

Soligen is producing castings in record time.

3D Systems' QuickCast 1.1 is being used to produce castings of unprecedented quality from an RP pattern.

The ink jet-based Model Maker from Sanders Prototype is producing fine castings from wax patterns using 0.0125-mm (0.0005-inch) thick layers.

Rapid tooling

Earlier this year, EOS showed metal tooling produced on its direct laser-sintering system.

DTM began beta testing its RapidTool process last month.

The future

By the end of this year, an estimated 1,500 RP systems will be in operation at customer sites around the world.

Wohlers Associates forecasts the '95 market to grow to $318 million, up from an estimated $198 million. The '96 market should reach $475 million.

In the future, RP will mean Rapid Production as layer building techniques produce production tooling and production parts.

Years ago, companies would question whether they should buy CAD. Today, they ask, "Which system should I buy?" A similar change will occur in the RP industry.

Acknowledgment: The author thanks David Tait of Laserform (Auburn Hill, Michigan, USA) for his assistance with the service bureau revenue estimates.

Copyright 1995 by Wohlers Associates