Although rapid prototyping is often coined to mean prototyping with a 3D printer, having a laser cutter ready and able with lots of scrap material can be just as fast (depending on the model).
Step 1: Concept
Before you put laser to wood or acrylic, firstly you need to put pen to paper. This is the most productive aspect of prototyping. Here, you could spend a few minutes to a few hours working on a design until you make something that you like and you know you can replicate.
Step 2: Electrons
In this step, you build the model you have designed on paper, in the software program (we are dealing with CNC after all). This can take a few minutes or weeks depending on the complexity of the model you sketched. This is also a cheap method of seeing how your design will fit together… in this step all you waste is electrons which are a dime a dozen.
Step 3: Prototype
Alright, you went from sketch to electrons… next step is a physical prototype. This can be the most enjoyable or awful experience you have… everything you THOUGHT would look good or work well together might be right or dead wrong. This is when you learn the most as unlike the previous two steps, you are bound by the laws of physics found in the Universe you inhabit!
Step 4: Assembly
Cutting a model is usually straight forward but that’s only half the battle… remember jigsaw puzzles as a kid? You have to somehow put the jumble of pieces in front of you into a working model! Odds are that you’ll have more than one piece and with each piece you add to your model, another source of error is introduced… for interlocking parts, the complexity and error rate seems to grow exponentially! However, the end result is definitely worth it.