What's in a name, ...

From: Terry Wohlers (Wohlers Associates)
Date: Sunday, January 15, 1995

From: Terry Wohlers (Wohlers Associates)
Date: Sunday, January 15, 1995
Subject: What's in a name, ...
On Friday, January 13, the Rapid Prototyping Association (RPA) of SME Board met
in Dearborn, Michigan to shape the organization's future and anticipate the
future needs of the RP industry.  We called it strategic planning.  Much of the
discussion focused on the development of RP technology over the next several
years.  We also debated what we, as an organization, should call the technology
now and in the future.  What we concluded was this:  RP will, and should, take
on a new meaning as the technology and its application evolves.  In the future,
RP could mean Rapid Production, Rapid Products, Rapid Playing <grin>, and so
on.  It's like AT&T, who today is much more than a American Telephone and
Telegraph company, and KFC, who no longer wants its customers to think of them
as a "fried" chicken joint.  An acronym, such as RP, gives our industry the
freedom to change its meaning to fit the technology of the time.  Whether it's
prototyping or production, the electronic model (and likely 3D printing by
layer) will drive the process.  That's what makes it special.

When CAD systems first became available more than two decades ago, they were
used almost exclusively for drafting, so CAD meant Computer-Aided Drafting to
everyone.  Today, CAD is being used extensively for drafting *AND* design, so
the D means whichever you want it to mean.  I expect that in five or even 10
years, RP systems will continue to be used for "prototyping," just as CAD is
still being used for drafting, but we will also see examples of RP being used
for the production of products.  Can't we continue to use "RP" as an umbrella
acronym, as we have been here in almost every message, to describe this
relatively new and exciting class of technology?

The comments from Rob Connelly of Becton Dickinson Research Center were on
target.  Today, companies are using RP systems for rapid prototyping. 
Laserform, for example, is one of the fastest growing and most successful
service bureaus and users of RP equipment in the U.S.  If you were to ask David
Tait, co-founder and executive at Laserform what his company does, he would
tell you it's rapid prototyping.  That's because his company delivers prototype
parts to his customers more rapidly using RP technologies than with
conventional techniques.  RP is what Laserform and many other SBs are all
about.  That may change in the future, but for now, they offer rapid
prototyping and many SBs can hardly keep pace with demand.  

And consider this:  It's very unlikely that changes will occur in the names of
the Rapid Prototyping Report (RPR), Rapid Prototyping Journal (RPJ), the Rapid
Prototyping Association of SME (RPA/SME), Rapid Prototyping & Manufacturing '95
(RP&M '95 - Dearborn, Michigan) and the Sixth International Conference on Rapid
Prototyping (Dayton, Ohio).  The last two are among the largest and most
established RP events in the industry and academia.  Please forgive me if I've
missed publications, organizations or events that use RP.  This list is only a

Any interest in putting this topic to rest?  I sense that many of us are much
more interested in discussing and debating what RP technologies and
applications might mean to us in the future.  I particularly enjoy reading
messages that express opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of new and
existing technologies, such as the comments from Marge Hartfel of 3M and Mark
Newton of Motorola.  Both shared insightful words on the Model Maker from
Sanders Prototype.

Terry Wohlers
Wohlers Associates

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