Over the previous decade, 3D printing has become globally prevalent due to the enormous benefits and flexibility the process can offer.
While the first documented 3D printed iteration occurred in the early 1980s, the additive manufacturing process has been continuously developed, becoming mainstream in the mid-2000s, with today’s 3D printers allowing for rapid prototyping, easy access, and lower costs while being eco-friendly.
Almost all 3D printers follow a similar fundamental framework, although the complexity and size of the specific project can directly influence the final process.
What Does The 3D Printing Process Look Like?
Before the 3D printing starts, you must find or create a computer-aided design (CAD). Once you have chosen your design, transform and export the file in an STL format. Critically, you must choose your materials, specific parameters, and G-code before the additive manufacturing begins.
The numerous advantages over traditional manufacturing methods are unquestionable, resulting in them becoming enormously popular in various global manufacturing and engineering industries.
Despite the first 3D printer being used in the early 1980s, the complexities involved with 3D printing were viewed as a disadvantage. However, additive manufacturing has undergone continued software development and technological enhancements, leading them to become mainstream in the early 2000s.
While a few different 3D printing techniques are currently used today, their fundamental processes remain similar.
Essentially, a 3D printer will transform a computer-generated image into a three-dimensional physical object. The process is completed when the 3D printer systematically and repeatedly layers a chosen material from the ground up without any required interventions.
1. Find Or Construct A Design
While various 3D printing processing techniques are visible in manufacturing industries, the first step will usually require you to find, construct, or generate a specific design.
Creating or finding a computer-generated design may seem like the most straightforward step within 3D printing, but it is the most important.
There are numerous templates and designs available on modern 3D design software programs. However, the process can quickly become enormously complicated if you require a unique creation or need specific materials.
If you don’t have much experience with 3D printers, it is recommended that you choose one of the standard templates. Once you have gained sufficient experience, it is easier to progress to more complex and specific designs, opening up endless manufacturing opportunities.
Due to the worldwide prevalence of 3D printing technology, you can access many free online resources to assist you with the design phase. In addition, countless online freelancers can create any 3D design you want.
It is important to note that the first step will always be initiated on a computer. Your chosen design must be appropriately transformed into a 3D model before the physical process can begin, or the model’s quality can be negatively impacted.
2. Export Your Chosen Design Model In An STL Format
Once you have chosen your specific computer-aided design (CAD), it is critical to export and save it in an STL-formatted file.
Many people, including regular 3D printing operators, frequently fail to properly convert and save their initial CAD design into the correct STL format. If this part of the process is incorrectly completed, the resultant quality of the creation will be negatively impacted, clearly indicating its underrated influence.
Each STL file, once properly formatted, will create a pattern of computer-generated linked triangles. The software-generated linked triangles are an essential component of 3D printing as it allows the printer to model the basic surface geometry of your intended print design.
Modern 3D printing software should allow you to seamlessly download or export the design in an STL format. STL is an abbreviation for a common 3D printing technology known as stereolithography.
3. Select Your Designs’ Required Materials
Selecting your computer-generated design’s required materials is essential. Often 3D printing operators experience challenges when incorrect materials are chosen.
To ensure a high-quality end product, it is recommended to select your materials before the design is created. Most modern 3D printers can exclusively use a handful of appropriate materials. This means you should thoroughly understand your required materials before the printing process can be initiated.
As 3D printing technology continues its exponential development curve, experts predict that almost any material can be seamlessly integrated.
Successfully selecting your materials before the manufacturing process starts will guarantee a high-quality end product, decrease associated costs, minimize waste, and alleviate any probability of disappointment.
4. Specify And Select Appropriate Parameters
While 3D printing technology has significantly advanced since the early 1980s, the quality of the eventual print is directly influenced by pre-determined parameters.
Pre-selecting the required parameters for your chosen 3D model is an essential step of the printing process. Similar to choosing your materials, these selections will massively impact the entire printing process.
The most effective way to choose appropriate parameters is to know exactly how large, tall, or wide you want your creation to be. Once you know the intended size of the object, it is easy to streamline the entire process by programming the 3D printer to your specific requirements.
While selecting the object’s unique parameters is vital, the physical model’s placement is more important. The 3D printer can only layer your unique creation if the machine knows exactly where the object must be printed.
5. Formulate, Save, And Export The G-code
If your model’s STL file was saved, exported, and formatted correctly, it could be utilized to create an appropriate G-code, the line of code used by modern 3D printers.
Few people understand what a G-code is or how it works, leading to many inexperienced 3D printer operators experiencing unnecessary challenges. However, creating a Gcode is a crucial and unavoidable step of the 3D printing process.
Formulating a G-code will require you to import the STL file you previously exported into a specific and appropriate slicing software. Selecting a slicing software best suited for your needs is crucial, although the technology usually comes standard with modern 3D printers.
Modern slicing software is needed to convert your prior STL model into an accepted line of Gcode. Once the G-code has been generated, it can be digitally inserted into the physical 3D printer’s components, allowing the machine to operate as intended.
Despite modern G-code being a novel concept for most people, it is a straightforward yet crucial step involved in 3D printing processes.
6. Let The 3D Printer Perform Its Magic
Once you have followed and implemented the prior steps, the magic and boundless opportunities offered by 3D printers will be clearly demonstrated.
If you have correctly designed and programmed the 3D printer, the machine will use your materials to automatically print your creation. While you can take a step back and assess the machine’s performance, the 3D printer should systematically print your 3D model.
Modern 3D printers will automatically exert just the right amount of your chosen material as it rotates layer by layer. The automated process is the most exciting and motivating part of 3D printing, as you can see your digital model being physically created from the ground up.
The eventual printing time is influenced by the complexity of your chosen materials and design. After the entire 3D printing process has been completed, allow the component some time to cool down and stabilise.
Once the object is permanently set, you can physically remove any noticeable imperfections, paint it, powder it, and brush it down.
3D printing has come a long way since its inception in the early 1980s.
Today, it’s a widely used process that offers a number of advantages in rapid prototyping.
The process involves exporting a computer-aided design (CAD) into an STL format and choosing the appropriate materials, parameters, and G-code for printing.
As the technology continues to evolve, it’s likely 3D printing processes will become even more efficient and eco-friendly, unlocking new possibilities for unique designs and advancements in manufacturing, supply chains, and sustainability.