What is 3D Printing?
By putting layers of material on top of one another, 3D printing helps create physical objects. When used for industrial production, 3D printing is referred to as additive manufacturing (AM) instead of conventional subtractive techniques like CNC (Computer Numerical Control) milling.
This technology was created in the early 1980s and has been around for about 40 years. Although 3D printing was initially expensive and time-consuming, significant technological advancements have made today's AM technologies more accessible and quick.
Process of 3D Printing
A digital 3D model is divided into hundreds of thin layers using specialized software and exported in G-code (or preparatory code) format. The 3D printer reads this language format to determine when and where to deposit material.
Each layer is a precise 2D representation of a particular portion or slice of the item. As an illustration, if you were to 3D print a pyramid, the lowest layer would be a flat square, and the top layer would be a small dot. Until the thing is entirely produced, the layers are sequentially 3D printed, one at a time.
Common Technologies for 3D Printing
Printing 3D objects can be done in a variety of methods. The leading 3D printing technologies currently in use are:
Each of these 3D printing technologies has advantages and disadvantages and may be adapted to various business sectors, depending on the corresponding use cases.
3D Printing Work
The ability to create highly intricate designs that would be hard to manufacture in any other way is one of the many benefits that 3D printing offers.
Speed is a crucial advantage of 3D printing. Even though 3D printing can take hours or even days to complete, it is still far quicker than traditional production techniques like injection molding.
One of the most common professional applications for 3D printing is prototyping, which can be completed quickly and easily in-house. Iterations of the design can also be incorporated and printed right away. Additionally, this method opens up a wide range of 3D printing material options.
Which items can be 3D printed?
With practically any material, 3D printing is feasible. The most popular 3D printing materials are plastic and range from basic PLA to cutting-edge, incredibly durable polymers like PEEK (polyetheretherketone) or PEI (polyethyleneimine), among many others. Thermoplastics can also be strengthened with carbon fiber or glass fiber and used during the printing process.
A few specialized 3D printing materials are also becoming more popular. In addition to chefs trying their hand at 3D printing food and contractors increasingly looking into 3D printing concrete, scientists and biologists are experimenting with 3D bioprinting.
What can be done with 3D printing?
In terms of consumer products, 3D printing may manufacture customized figurines, useful household items, and more. In particular, the most important advantage of this technique is for commercial use cases.
There are endless uses for 3D printing due to the abundance of additive manufacturing (AM) technology and the variety of compatible materials.
In the business environment, 3D printing is mainly used for prototyping. Rapid prototyping or quickly designing a model with 3D printing has become very common.
One of the most impressive instances of 3D printing was recently seen by the entire world during the global coronavirus pandemic. In just a few weeks, thousands of respirators, swabs, and face shields had been mass-produced after only a few days of design work.
As doctors and researchers gradually provided feedback, 3D models continued to change. In the fight against the virus, this quick approach with 3D printing was quite successful, and it exemplified the potential, adaptability, and speed (time-to-market) that additive manufacturing still has to offer.
In a lighter vein, similar advantages may apply to more commonplace, fortunate circumstances in various fields, such as aerospace, automotive, education, oil & gas, medicine, etc.
Jigs, Equipment, and Fixtures
Another popular application for 3D printing is tooling. A 3D printing service can swiftly and on-site produce tools, jigs, and fixtures without delaying the production process because of a missing component. Professionals can now adjust their requirements from tools and utensils to the item or component they are working on easily.
It may take many weeks for traditional techniques like injection molding to be supported by sufficient money to buy a new, customized instrument. While 3D printing is not always superior to traditional production methods for every application, it is often useful, faster, and less expensive in most cases.
The 3D printing approach also helps in mass personalization. Cost reduction at scale is a major benefit of mass production, but each component must be similar.
However, additive manufacturing allows businesses to make personalized goods in large quantities. This is referred to as mass customization or mass personalization. Manufacturers can make use of the same economies of scale while giving their customers the benefit of personalization.
Overview of 3D Printing Technologies: How do 3D printers work?
Unlike ordinary 2D printers that can print text or images on paper, 3D printers can reproduce 3D things. With 3D printing, there are hundreds or thousands of stacked layers, whereas, in 2D printing, only one is used. Also, the 3D printing approach uses the substances while layering rather than the ink layers.
Manufacturers must prepare 3D models before any printing takes place in 3D printing. With CAD software like SOLIDWORKS, you can create your 3D objects, or you can search for and download 3D models online.
When the 3D model is prepared, specialized slicing software, sometimes known as a "slicer", must slice and transform the created object into a format that the 3D printer can understand. After that, the item can be 3D printed.
There are several approaches; however, the primary 3D printing technologies are as follows:
3D printer manufacturers sometimes use their own acronyms, but the four groups mentioned above are a great approach to establishing a uniform classification. Each of these standard 3D printing technologies is explained in the below sections:
FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication)
Since they are the most widely used and simple to understand, filament-based 3D printing techniques are typically used as examples when explaining what 3D printing is.
A layer of molten plastic is drawn onto the print bed, or a plate is constructed using an FFF (or FDM, called Fused Deposition Modelling) 3D printer. The plastic filament is heated inside an extruder while it is pushed through the nozzle by gears, where the melting takes place.
The photosensitive resin is solidified by a laser or other light source in the stereolithography method of resin 3D printing.
Curing is the term for the solidification process, which can take place in various ways:
Resin 3D printers have the capacity to print smaller layers than FFF 3D printers, providing a significantly better level of detail that, for instance, jewelers or dentists are interested in.
PBF (Powder Bed Fusion)
The most popular powder-based 3D printing techniques are SLM (Selective Laser Melting) and SLS (Selective Laser Sintering).
In this approach, a vital laser source targets a 3D printing material bed. Certain powder particles melt or fuse due to the laser's heat. These methods can also be utilized with plastics like nylon and are frequently used to 3D print metal.
Jetting of Material and Binder
Most 3D printers that resemble 2D printers are those that use material jetting. They are mounted with thousands of minuscule nozzles that squirt ink onto a layer of powdered material.
Either the ink serves as the goal material, or it acts as a binding agent (essentially glue) that is smeared across the goal material.
The Ecosystem of the 3D Printing Industry
The 3D printing industry includes more than just 3D printers and the companies that make them. It is supported by a variety of other influential individuals who, though frequently disregarded, are crucial to the success of this technology.
Along with 3D printer makers, there are businesses that produce materials, software, post-processing equipment, and services. Thus, various components jointly form the ecosystem of 3D printing.