It is important to mention at this stage that RP is only possible with the support of other technologies. In fact, it is necessary that the models be computer generated, and therefore the considerable developments in CAD/CAM are very significant to the development of RP. For medical models, this issue is particularly relevant because the source of model data can be manifold. Medical models are generally sourced from patient data that can come from computerized tomography (CT, essentially 3D X-ray data that are particularly used for bony tissue), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI, used to generate images of soft tissue regions), ultrasonic imaging, etc. There are variants of these methods, and indeed images can be combined from different sources. In addition, conventional engineering CAD models can also be combined with such data to produce designs for implants, tooling and fixtures.
One benefit of RP is that the technologies can be used at varying stages of product development. It is an aid for conceptualization, but can also be used to generate detail designs and test models, and even for production. Of course, not all RP machines can be used in the same way and some are less versatile than others. Also, it is important to realize they are not used in isolation, but in conjunction with other technologies, like vacuum casting, spray tooling and injection moulding. Considerable skill is also required to operate these technologies effectively, with a requirement for manual skills to produce good surface finish and appearance of models while maintaining accuracy.
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