The key element in the efficient use of RP is application of 3D solid modeling software, starting at the point of design inception. Without this tool, transfer of design data can be time-consuming and laborious. There is less use of 3D solid modeling software in Europe than in the United States, and even less in Japan. This may be partially due to the recession Japan has endured during the past several years, which has limited capital spending in most companies.

Representatives of a Japanese service bureau speculated to the JTEC/WTEC team that 10% of large Japanese companies own 3D CAD solid modeling software, and 1% know how to use it. Others estimate that 3% of Japanese designers can use 3D solid modelers. Officials at another service bureau told panelists that 80% of their customers supply CAD files, but the files are only in 2D. Generally, prototypes can be made in Japan quicker, cheaper, and more accurately by conventional machine shop practices if designs are supplied as 2D files. Only when parts are small, have complicated surfaces, and are designed in 3D CAD solid modeling can prototypes be built more quickly and less expensively by RP techniques.

There is an interest in Japan in finding easier methods for designers to build RP models without having to use full 3D solid modeling software. For example, Sony wants to develop 2D CAD software that would be easier to use than solid modeling packages, but that could produce 3D RP models with specialized control software. The goal of Professor Fukuda of the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Technology is to develop a CAD system that allows the designer to use a "more intuitive approach" to modify and manipulate the model (Sites, 1996, 117-118). At the time of the JTEC/WTEC panel's visits in Japan, large companies like Mitsubishi Electric Engineering Company were ordering 3D CAD solid modeling software from the United States, but until recently only relied on 2D drawing tools (Electronic News 1996, 32).

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Published: March 1997; WTEC Hyper-Librarian