The concept and introduction of 3D printing can be traced back as early as the 1970s.
3D printing has come a long way and has risen in popularity because it makes manufacturing more accessible to many people.
But what is it and how does it work?
What Is 3D Printing?
3D printing is a process that creates three-dimensional products from a digital model file. 3D printing is an additive manufacturing process that works by laying down layers of material and fusing them to create the end product and is commonly used in rapid prototyping.
3D printing uses a wide range of technology and materials and is used in many leading industries. Some items that use 3D printing include dental products, movie props, prosthetics, and scale models.
3D printing is popular because its cheap, customisable, and faster than most other production methods.
The technology used in 3D printing is advanced and constantly being improved. Using a 3D printer is often a great solution to create unique objects or make one of your designs come to life.
What's 3D Printing Used For?
3D printers are primarily used to create products and prototypes but can produce finished products. For example, 3D printers are commonly used to make automotive parts, sculptures, reconstructed models of artefacts, and medical products like prosthetics.
3D printing is vast, and this printing method is used in almost every sector. Some of the most innovative ways 3D printing is being used include:
3D Printed Medical Objects
3D modelled organs of hearts, livers, and kidneys are 3D printed to study and may be used in some patients as doctors and surgeons can replicate organs based on the specifications of an individual's body.
3D printing is an affordable and convenient method of creating medical devices to help patients and is making room for more options for healthcare providers to treat patients.
3D Printed Homes
3D printing has recently been used to print homes and alleviate homelessness in many poverty-stricken places like Haiti and Mexico.
3D printers have also been used to make office buildings and other structures.
These buildings are cost-effective, provide affordable housing solutions, and can help design homes that can fit into densely overpopulated areas.
3D Printed Food
3D-printed food may seem like something out of this world, but a couple of restaurants today use 3D printers to create unique dishes.
One of these is Food Ink. This London-based restaurant is a one-of-a-kind gourmet restaurant that produces all its food, utensils, and furniture with 3D printers.
3D Printed Cars
3D printing has played a massive role in the automotive industry and isn't limited to printing prototypes but can print lightweight car parts.
3D printing has also been used extensively in designing and printing concept cars. It allows more room for designers to customize cars and customers more options when it comes to their designs and ideas.
How Does 3D Printing Work?
To begin the manufacturing process, a design is created on a computer using CAD (computer-aided design) software.
3D printing software takes the object you want to be printed and turns it into many layers, then prints the layers one layer at a time in a process known as additive manufacturing.
As they are printed, the layers fuse together and form the final product.
While each 3D printer may work slightly differently, the basic concept remains the same.
3D printers use various materials, but the most common is a plastic filament which serves as the ink in these printers. This filament is widely used because of its durability and flexibility, however, other 3D printer materials include metal, resin, and powders.
Additive manufacturing processes are also more efficient than subtractive manufacturing processes like CNC machining, as there is limited waste since each product gets printed according to the specifications in the design.
Are There Different Types Of 3D Printing?
There are several types of 3D printing, and when choosing a 3D printer, it can be challenging to choose the right 3D printer for your needs. Each type of 3D printing uses technology differently to produce the final product.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
Fused Deposition Modelling, also known as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), is a widely available 3D printing technology that is commonly found in homes and offices, however, it’s not only useful for prototyping and hobbyists.
FDM can also be used on an industrial scale to access a range of materials that are difficult to print with other techniques.
An FDM printer works by heating the filament until it melts and then extruding the molten material through a nozzle onto a surface to build the object layer by layer from the bottom up.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
SLS is a 3D printing technique that uses high-powered carbon dioxide lasers to bind or sinter polymer powder particles and form solid three-dimensional objects.
As each of the layers of the model is fused together, the powder bed moves down to enable the next layer to be created.
SLS is an effective 3D printing process for producing durable and sturdy prototypes.
Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)
HP introduced MJF to the market in the early 2010s as a new technology that took their expertise in traditional paper printing and applied it to the 3D printing industry.
Today, MJF is a widely used, fast and reliable technology in the additive manufacturing field, particularly for the production of flexible components made of amorphous materials like TPU.
Stereolithography is the first 3D printing method invented and works with a photopolymer gum and a light source.
This form of 3D printing offers more details and smooth surfaces compared to other 3D printers and is most beneficial for prototypes and other printing requiring extreme accuracy.
Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
DMLS uses metal in 3D printing. This type of 3D printing is used for prototypes and the mass production of metal parts.
The process works in the same way as Selective Laser Sintering, using a laser to melt a metal powder, and fusing it together into thin layers to produce a finished part or prototype.
Electron Beam Melting (EBM)
EBM uses an electron beam to fuse layers in 3D printing. This printing type is used primarily for complex printing and is very quick to produce 3D-printed items.
3D printing is commonly used across many industries and can even be used at home.
It’s a cost-effective method of creating prototypes and actual products and offers a range of opportunities for future developments and new technological solutions, from medical devices to fully printed homes and food.