I was shopping with my brother the other day at the computer store. There, amongst the computer parts, we came across a 3D printer. Honestly, the only thing I knew about 3D printer is I read that someone had a human ear made out of bio-tissue using a 3D printer. I decided to investigate and demystify this incredible and evolving technology.
So how does 3D printing work? To begin the process, a design is generated with a 3D scanner or created from a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file. The resulting model is then broken down into oodles (hundreds or thousands) of horizontal layers with slicing software. After that, the data is uploaded to the 3D printer, which then prints the design layer by layer. How amazing! Let’s break it down a little more.
3D printing is sometimes called desktop fabrication. Items can be made using this process from any substance that can be used as a molten material that is fast to harden and set.
To make something using a 3D printer, you need a digital 3D model. You can use Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs to create a model. You can download models already done on the internet. You can also scan a set of 3D images and upload them to a converter program. Whichever method you use to craft a 3D model, save it as STL format.
How Do You Print A 3D Object?
Now that you have a saved 3d model file, the data is then sent to the 3D printer. How does 3D printing work with that file? The printer will analyze the 3D model in the file and print out a three-dimensional object layer by layer with a device that is somewhat like an inkjet printer.
The 3D printer forces the printing material (typically molten plastic) through a nozzle. The nozzle is precisely directed by the computer. The printer prints one layer, and when it dries, prints the next layer.
What Materials Can Be Used To Create A 3D Printout?
The materials used to create a 3D printed object can be any molten material that hardens and sets quickly. These materials include, but are not limited to, wax, silver, PLA, stainless steel, photopolymers, glass filled polyamide, ABS plastic, nylon, epoxy resins, bronze, chocolate, bone material, ceramics, gold, bio-ink, sandstone, gypsum, and titanium.
What Types Of 3D Printing Are There?
The actual printing process depends on the materials used. There are seven main methods of 3D printing.
Vat photopolymerisation printing uses a container with photopolymer resin that is hardened with UV light. The material jetting method is when a nozzle emits droplets of the material in layers to build an object which then uses UV light to harden the structure.
Binder jetting uses a powder material for the base and a liquid adhesive. The powder is spread out in layers while the binder is applied via nozzles to glue the 3D object together. Metal extrusion has a continuous filament made of plastic or a metal wire which is melted in the nozzle head. A computer controls the movement of the stream, which then hardens into a three-dimensional object.
With the powder bed fusion method, a high powered laser fuses particles of metal, ceramic, plastic or glass powder to form an object. Sheet lamination takes paper, metal or polymer sheets and wields them in layers using ultrasonic welding, which is shaped into the finished product.
Directed energy deposition uses a 3D printing device attached to a robotic arm that has a nozzle which layers wire or metal powder. Lasers, electron beams or plasma arcs are used to melt and form the solid object.
When Was 3D Printing Invented?
3D printing was first conceived in 1981. Charles Hull invented stereolithography, which allowed the creation of physical models using digital data. In 1992, his company, 3D Systems, invented the first stereolithographic apparatus (SLA) machine which could create things in layers. The tech company DTM also produced the first selective laser sintering (SLS) machine that could aim a laser at powder rather than liquid.
Through the 1990s and early years of 2000, the technology was pretty much restricted to the fields of architecture, medicine, engineering, and manufacturing. Then in 2005, Dr. Adrian Boyer set up an open-source initiative that designed a 3D printer that could print out most of its parts. This self-propagating printer was released under the name Darwin in 2008 which has opened 3D printing to the whole world.
What Are The Benefits Of 3D Printing?
With the 3D printing process, it is now possible to create an object from scratch in just a few hours. It can provide substantial savings to the manufacturer’s assembly costs since it prints products that are already assembled.
3D printing can save companies more money because they can create a variety of prototypes with endless variations without a significant investment of time or materials. 3D printing also comes in handy when someone needs a replacement part that is no longer manufactured.
3D printing is also revolutionizing the medical field. This technology is now able to create customized implants, drug delivery devices, prostheses, and scaffolds for regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. The medical profession has also capitalized on 3D technology to manufacture replicas of brains and children’s hearts to train surgeons.
In aerospace engineering, 3D printing can help designers test how planes behave in certain conditions. For architects, a 3D replica can show them how a finished design looks. Artists and artisans can create personalized products to keep or sell. Even some food products can be made from 3D printing technology.
What Are The Drawbacks Of 3D Printing?
Although more accessible than ten years ago, 3D printers are still costly. A high-end 3D printer might set up back up to $50,000.
A 3D printout object is inferior in quality to that of what a Rapid Prototyping machine can do. The colors may not be as vibrant, the materials are often of inferior quality, and the texture might be sub-par.
How Will 3D Printing Be Used In The Future?
It’s hard to say what industries will do with the developing 3D technology. The automotive, industrial equipment, architecture, medical, educational, and consumer-product industries will find a way to implement 3D printing options to save time and money.
Scientists have created body parts for reconstructive surgery successfully already. Soon enough functional organs might be able to be printed off for transplants. Perhaps nutritionally appropriate food will be able to be created using 3D printing techniques in the future.
There is also the potential for a more sustainable world using 3D printing by reusing waste products. Scientists have already figured out how to turn carbon dioxide into concrete. Who knows where this technology will take us in the future? One designer has used the residue from old refrigerators to print functional chairs.
Should You Buy A 3D Printer?
Nowadays, you can get your own 3D printer for less than $500. While that still may be a stretch for your wallet, in the long run, it just may save you money.
You can create replacement items that you would have had to go out and buy previously. For instance, if you have a broken shower ring, instead of purchasing a whole new set, you can make one. If you have appliances that need repair, but the manufacturer is no longer making the parts, you can make them yourself.
Making these items yourself means you don’t have to pay for shipping or any specialized tools. You won’t need to run to the store for just one piece either.
You can earn money by printing items requested by people online, either at your site or through online printing companies. As your expertise increases, you could begin teaching 3D printing classes. If you are an artist, you could design your own crafts or jewelry line and sell them.
If you are an inventor or architect, it might be worth your while to invest in a 3D printer. You’d be able to get a prototype or see a three-dimensional model of your latest design at a fraction of the cost of a traditional mock-up.
Why Shouldn’t You Get A 3D Printer?
Price is a huge factor in not investing in your 3D printer just yet. As this technology becomes more prevalent, the odds are that prices will drop. Plus there is the added expense of getting the material you need to craft your three-dimensional object. While plastic may not be too costly, gold or silver are.
Unless you download your 3D digital model from the internet, you’ll have to use CAD software to design one. Learning the ins and outs of CAD programming could take some time and skill.
You don’t necessarily have to own a 3D printer to get a 3D object. You can order a three-dimensional product from a variety of online websites that specialize in this type of technology. Some office supply stores are even beginning to offer 3D in-store printing centers.
So there you have the long and the short of how does 3D printing work. The technology is impressive but perhaps not quite ready for home use just yet.