What is 3D Printing?
In a nutshell, 3D printing is a manufacturing process that creates a three-dimensional object from a digital design. You may be surprised to hear that 3D printing has actually been around for over 30 years. There are a number of different materials and technologies available, but all are based on the same principle ie a digital model is turned into a solid three-dimensional physical object by adding material, layer by layer.
How does 3D Printing work?
The first step requires the creation of a digital model design file of the physical object (also known as a blueprint). This is usually done using 3D modelling software such as ZBrush or MUDBOX. This design file is then sliced into layers which are then used by the 3D printer. The printer will build the final object layer-by-layer based on the layers provided in the digital model. The materials and technology used in building these layers varies depending on the size or quality of the final object. For example, PLA Plastic Filament could be used for light weight biodegradable objects , whereas ABS Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene would normally be used for more durable and slightly flexible objects similar to a LEGO brick.
Who uses 3D Printing?
In short, 3D printing is used practically everywhere. It’s is not a thing of the future, it’s happening all around us right now.
Aerospace – 3D printing has become a vital tool for aerospace engineers helping them to achieve rapid prototyping, tooling and even part manufacturing of aerospace components.
Medicine – Surgeons can produce 3D models allowing them to plan surgeries, lowering operation times and increasing patient recovery.
Manufacturing – Boeing has been using 3D printing technology for longer than most and has made more than 20,000 3D printed parts for military and commercial planes.
What are the different types of 3D Printers?
It can be very confusing differentiating between the types of 3D printers available. Below is a brief description of the 7 different types of printers on the market at the moment.
FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling ) is the most common 3D printing method used in desktop 3D printing. Thermoplastic filament is heated and extruded through an extrusion head building the 3D object from the bottom up.
SLA (Stereolithography) works by exposing a layer of photosensitive liquid resin to a UV-laser beam so that the resin hardens and becomes solid. This is repeated building each layer on top of the preceding one in the desired shape.
SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) work s similar to SLA, however SLS uses powdered material in the build instead of liquid resin. A laser is used to bind the material together to create a solid structure and once the object is fully formed, it’s left to cool and harden in the printer. This type of 3D printer requires the use of expensive high-powered lasers, which puts it a bit beyond the reach of the average consumer.
SLM (Selective Laser Melting) uses a high-powered laser beam to fully melt metallic powders into solid three-dimensional parts. Typical materials used are stainless steel or aluminum. This style of printing is often used in the aerospace or medical orthopedics industry.
EBM (Electron Beam Melting) uses an electron beam at high temperatures of up to 1000°C. to melt layers of metallic powder. This is the least popular style of printing as it is very slow and very expensive.
LOM (Laminated Object Manufacturing) uses layers of adhesive-coated paper, plastic or metal laminates. These layers are fused together under intensive heat and pressure and shaped by cutting with a computer controlled laser or knife. After the excess material is cut away, the object can be sealed with paint. This style of 3D printing is one of the most affordable and quickest methods available.
MJF (Multi Jet Fusion) uses a blend of layering and spraying chemical agents to determine the physical outline and to create each solid layer. The process is repeated until the final 3d object is complete. This style of 3D printing is still being developed and the full potential is yet to be established.
What’s a 3D Pen?
3D Printing Pens work by heating soft plastic filament allowing the melted filament to run from the pen tip similar to ink from a pen. This melted filament solidifies after a few seconds. The aim is to create a three-dimensional picture making a 3D Pen the ideal tool for those with a creative flair.