DIRECT FABRICATION is a manufacturing innovation whereby engineers integrate design and manufacturing operations for structural materials via computer software to fabricate components in an automated fashion. Several techniques are under development, and their use for rapid prototyping (RP) can eliminate the need for costly redesign after a part has gone into full-scale production. Traditional prototyping can itself be costly and time consuming, often delaying product introduction. Rapid prototyping technologies were developed in response to increasing competitive pressures to bring quality products to market quickly. A key element in any RP process is the use of sophisticated computer codes used to generate computer numerical control (CNC) motion and process control data from "slices" taken from solid models.

The following section in this article summarizes the principal RP methods. Later sections provide more detailed information about the following P/M RP methods: soft tooling, low-pressure molding, selective laser sintering, and laser-based direct fabrication.

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