Last Updated on May 31, 2021 by Husain Parvez
3D printing has been embraced by filmmakers, physicians, engineers, entrepreneurs, students, and massive factories – because 3D printing allows for the conversion of a digital design into a tangible object. And it is used for a wide array of things.
Although commonly used for the creation of plastic objects, 3D printing can also generate metallic objects.
Facts About 3D Printers
With 3D printing, creating and recreating props has become easier and faster for filmmakers. Physicians can print touchable models of portions of patient anatomy to visualize procedures better and demonstrate practice. Engineers in factories can build custom jigs and fixtures that save time and reduce injury during the manufacturing process.
Simply put, 3D printers have changed the world, and here are some things you should know about them.
What is 3D printing?
3D printing is the process of transforming a digital design into a physical object. 3D printing is an additive method. Layers of plastic are built up one after the other to create a target object.
The process was initially introduced in the 1980s and was also known as additive manufacturing. First commercially used in aerospace and automotive industries as a rapid prototyping technique. Charles Hull, who later co-founded 3D Systems, had a patent granted for a stereo-lithography system (SLA).
In 1988, 3D Systems sold its first industrial 3D printer operating the SLA technology.
It was not until 2009 that 3D printing became openly available to the public. The RepRap Project opened the door to affordable desktop 3D printers utilizing the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology. Then, and in the years following 2009, new and older companies started innovating, creating, and improving the desktop 3D printer to the point where today, we have high-quality and affordable desktop 3D printers utilizing FDM technology.
How do 3D printers work?
There are several 3D printers, but for this discussion, we will be focusing on two: fused-deposition modeling (or FDM) and SLA.
FDM starts with rolls of filament as its source material. These typically come in strands either 1.75 or 2.85 millimeters thick, rolled onto a spindle. An FDM printer heats the filament, squeezes it out through an extruder nozzle, and lays down layers on a build surface. Each molten layer is fragile, and as it is layered upon the previous layer as it cools, it partially fuses.
Overtime– sometimes a lot of time – an object is built up from hundreds or thousands of these layers.
SLA starts with a liquid resin as its source material. A build tray is lowered into the liquid (usually upside down). Light (sometimes from an LCD, sometimes from an ultraviolet laser) creates a chemical reaction that causes it to harden. As each layer is exposed to the light, the printer raises the build platform slightly out of the pool, exposing the next layer to light.
FDM is the most popular form of material extrusion 3D printing. SLA is the most common type of 3D printing method based on light polymerization. In recent years, the cost of both of these printing methods has fallen to a level where they can be afforded by consumers, hobbyists, educators, and entrepreneurs. Still, they are generally limited to the production of plastics, plastic composites, and nylon-like materials.
What is 3D printing suitable for?
On the business aspect of things, 3D printing has enabled different industries – from healthcare to the automotive industry – to do things never before possible and bring products to the market more seamlessly.
One spectacular area where 3D printing excels is in healthcare. Custom-built prostheses, 3D printed tissue are becoming regular in labs.
In aerospace, 3D printers enable engineers to 3D print small jet engine components with complex inner channeling, making the engine more fuel-efficient.
What are the benefits of 3D printing?
3D printers offer incredible advancement in healthcare, financial, logistical, creative, and environmental areas.
For one, the technology allows for limitless customization with regard to design and material. One remarkable example of this benefit is in the healthcare sector. Complex prosthetic limbs are created specifically for individual needs for an affordable price.
In aerospace, complex parts that usually take time to assemble can now be 3D printed at once. This hastens up the assembly line and decreases the cost of the finished product. Mass production in higher numbers is also made possible.
3D printers are moveable. This allows end products or components to be 3D printed where and when needed, thereby reducing or eradicating inventory needs.
Since 3D printing employs the model of adding material rather than subtracting, the process leaves behind little to no waste. Although materials used in conventional manufacturing methods are recyclable, the method of recycling materials is costly. That cost is saved with 3D printing.
3D printing is undeniably a laudable innovation with immense benefits. Do you have a major project coming up? Can you identify some items that you can use 3D printers for? Don’t be scared to explore!