3D printing is the process of creating a three dimensional, physical object from a digital model. A 3D printer can print in over 100 different materials. The possibilities with this emerging technology are mind-boggling, from printed prosthetic limbs to printer replication. 3D printing started in the '80s under the name ‘rapid prototyping’ because this was the purpose of the technology: to prototype faster and cheaper. A lot’s changed since then, and today 3D printers offer amazing results and let you create anything you can imagine.
3D printers are now becoming a commonplace tool in fields like engineering, product design, manufacturing and architecture. With such a huge commercial driving force behind it, we expect more innovations in 3D printing that will make it cheaper, more versatile, and have better quality products. Production time has been a chief constraint in additive manufacturing technologies like 3D printing, so we expect tech developers to focus on this particular aspect.
It all starts with a 3D model. You create one yourself or download it from a 3D repository. When creating it yourself you can choose to use a 3D scanner, app, haptic device, code or 3D modeling software. 3D printing is also called additive manufacturing, because unlike the traditional subtractive manufacturing, 3D printing doesn’t remove material, it adds it, layer after layer.
Although there are several 3D printing technologies, most of them create the object by laying down many successive thin layers of a material. Usually, desktop 3D printers use plastic filaments (1) which are fed into the printer by the feeder (2). The filament is melted in the print head (3) which extrudes the material onto the build plate (4) creating your object layer by layer. Once the printer starts printing, all you have to do is wait – it’s that easy.
3D printing makes it possible to quickly create a model or prototype, helping engineers, designers and companies to get iterative feedback on their designs in a short time. Faster design and prototype production means more time to iterate the prototype and find product market fit before competitors. 3D printing production takes just hours. Conversely, testing ideas and designs with conventional manufacturing methods can take up days, if not several weeks.
Another advantage of 3D printing is the ability of any given printer to create just about anything that can fit within its build volume. In any other manufacturing process (aside from milling), each new part or change in part design requires a new tool, mold, die, or jig to be manufactured in order for said new part to be created. With 3D printing, the design can be fed into a slicer software, any needed supports added, and then printed with little to no change whatsoever in the physical machinery or equipment
Traditional prototyping methodologies including production runs and injection mold are costly as they require a lot of human labor. Labor costs are also very high with conventional subtractive manufacturing. You need experienced machine operators and technicians to handle the production. Also, you have to pay these laborers and use expensive machinery. With 3D printing, however, labor can be as little as one person issuing a print command.
3D printing allows for endless personalization, which makes it much simpler to accommodate personal touches that are requested from customers. Your imagination is the only limitation. You can make a crown that is precisely engineered to fit in someone’s mouth for example. This cuts down on the number of visits that a patient needs to make sure they have a properly fitting crown.
Traditional manufacturing methods can easily result in poor designs, and therefore poor quality prototypes.3D printing allows the step-by-step assembly of the object, which guarantees enhanced designs and eventually better quality objects. 3D printers can prodcue horizontal resoltion and vertical resolution. Horizontal resolution (or XY resolution) is the smallest movement the printer’s extruder can make within a layer on the X and the Y axis. The lower the value, the higher the details the printer produces.
Many manufacturing methods result in high costs and waste. An advantage of 3D printing is that it is unique in the way that it only uses the required amount of material to create a part or product and that means very little waste. While many of the more traditional methods will have waste that can be re-used or recycled it still takes time and effort to determine just how and when the waste will be used. This makes 3D printing a very sustainable option..
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