3D printing is the manufacturing process of creating a three-dimensional object from a digital file by adding successive layers of material. It can be used for purposes such as prototyping, modeling, and direct digital manufacturing. 3D printing works by laying down thin slices of material away from the input device and fusing them together through an extrusion process.
The first use of 3D printing was in 1980 when computer scientist Chuck Hull built the first 3D printer. Since then, 3D printers have completely revolutionized manufacturing and have become affordable enough to be purchased by professionals and individuals alike.
How does 3D printing work?
The first step in the process is to create a product design or file in CAD software, usually made of 3D shapes or 2D drawings. 3D printers then convert these files into 2D layers and print them one at a time, in reverse order.
There are two basic components of every 3D printer: hardware and software. Hardware refers to the physical components of the 3D printer that determines how it works, as well as its size and shape. Software refers to the instructions that tell a 3D printer how to print an object. This is where we get back to computer-aided design (CAD) programs, like AutoCAD or Sketchup. CAD software is like a digital drafting table that allows us to visualize our design and build it piece by piece.
The CAD software slices the digital model into thousands of horizontal layers to create an object. Each layer is a single horizontal cross-section of the overall object. In this way, we can convert a 3D object into a series of 2D shapes easily printable by a 3D printer. The printer then adds each of these layers one at a time, in order from bottom to top, using a slurry of heated plastic that has been applied to its bed—the flat surface upon which objects are built.
The 3D printer takes an object from the CAD file and builds it up in horizontal layers. Each layer of resin or powder needs to be hard enough to support the weight of powder or liquid resin above it; if it’s too soft, it will deform, but if it’s too hard, it won’t bond well with the material on top of it. The object can be built in one go, or the printer can create several small objects and glue them together afterward.
The process is called additive manufacturing because it adds material during the build process. It began as a 3D printing method but has evolved into a generic term that describes the many different processes. 3D printers use a series of print cartridges filled with liquid resin or powder that slowly hardens and is either extruded or forced into place with a machine-drawn nozzle.
A printer creates an object layer by layer using resin or powder, which is added to support successive layers as they are built up in solid form. The physical properties of each material – its strength, density, and consistency – play important roles in how it performs over time.
Digital fabrication, also known as additive manufacturing, is the process of making physical objects by depositing material layer by layer. It is a relatively new concept that can be used for many different applications, including prototyping, production, and replication of models in CAD software and other 3D modeling programs. This digital fabrication can be used for the creation of functional objects such as mechanical parts, plastic parts, and prototypes from scratch or even to create cost-effective, customized designs. The whole process is done with computer-aided design (CAD), which allows further capabilities to be added to the final printed product.
The extruder is the piece of equipment that melts or fuses the filaments into a single layer. It adds the plastic to a flatbed in precise amounts and then moves swiftly along it while heating the plastic. This process can produce very precise objects at very high speeds. The extruder section of a 3D printer consists of a heated print head, an extruder tube containing hot melted plastic, and two heater cooling fans. As the extruder moves along its heating and cooling paths, it pushes melted plastic out of the nozzle in order.
3D printers are becoming widely available at low-cost thanks to open-source hardware design models like RepRap and Arduino’s open-source hardware ecosystem. They are also gaining popularity due to their ease of use, low cost, and ability to produce functional prototypes from a variety of materials.
3D printing is not only a new technology used in the manufacturing industry but has many uses in the world of research and innovation. 3D printing allows the user to create previously thought impossible objects. In fact, many large-scale applications and research projects have developed based on the use of 3D printers. In 2012 alone, several scientific research projects were funded by NASA to examine ways in which 3D printers can be used to create complicated devices such as rocket engines, organs, prosthetic limbs, or even aircraft parts.
3D printers lay down successive thin layers of material until they have completed their build. Unlike traditional manufacturing techniques that must start from a solid block or sheet, a 3D printer can produce intricate shapes with moving parts that are impossible with other technologies. These layers are often made up of plastic or metal dust in different colors, which combine under heat and pressure as they form into three-dimensional objects.
3D printers can produce exact copies of a model that has been downloaded from the internet. These used to be the domain of custom-made masters, but now they are possible with the right steps and materials. 3D printers can produce models that have never been seen when combined with computer programs.
A 3D printer works by moving around two metal extruders which form new layers as they feed them through at different speeds. The first extruder releases a stream of plastic material. In contrast, the second extruder feeds metal particles into it at high speeds to vary its color and make it stretchable in accordance with its design. The plastic and metal are melted together at the exact temperatures to make the models as strong and fine-grained as possible.
3D printing is often compared to traditional inkjet printing. In both cases, the output is a solid product instead of an image, but that is where the similarities end. Instead of a printer head that bounces ink off a flat surface, 3D printers deposit individual particles of material one layer at a time, which has a far smoother appearance. Different technologies fall under the category of 3D printing, but all work similarly to create three-dimensional objects from thin layers.
However, the most popular use for 3D printing is its ability to create prototypes of new designs and shapes. A prototype is a sample or model made by manufacturers to test the design, look and feel of new products or devices before going ahead and creating them for mass production. Prototypes are created as cheaply as possible in order to test if people like the design of a product or not. During this process, designers can keep updating the prototype and printing out new versions until they have a product they are happy with. This is where 3D printing plays a huge role in the industry of innovation and research because it allows scientists to create prototypes that can be tested over time quickly.
3D printers are becoming more affordable and more widely available, in both professional and personal capacities, as the technology improves. With the current trend of open-source 3D printer models and software, there is no doubt that we will see even greater use of 3D printers in manufacturing and research. This technology also holds great promise for schools, where students can use them to create any design they want.
NASA is one such organization that has many ongoing projects to create a printer that can be sent into space to allow astronauts to manufacture parts on the go. It is proposed that these printers would be able to print plastic parts that might otherwise be considered weighty and difficult to send into space. Already, researchers at NASA have successfully printed a small component for the International Space Station from a 3D printer.
3D printing can also benefit the medical field in a number of ways. One of the biggest problems with traditional medical procedures is that surgical tools are sometimes too large for doctors to use. This results in excessive blood loss and damaged tissue during surgery. 3D printing technologies can help to alleviate this problem by producing smaller tools for surgeons, which may make surgery safer by reducing bleeding and preventing damage to delicate tissue. Another issue with current surgical tools is infection from bacteria on the instruments. 3D printing can help to alleviate this problem by creating printed parts with a sterile coating. As you can see, 3D printing is an extremely useful technology for manufacturing, research, and scientific innovation. There are many uses for it that have yet to be discovered or explored.