3D printing provides designers with an efficient method for quickly creating models of their ideas for form, fit, and function evaluation before being transformed into finished products using traditional manufacturing processes.
The type of printer and material selected will have an immediate effect on print quality. Some printers only work with their manufacturer’s own filament, while others allow third-party materials.
This process will likely shift from research and development into actual production runs, or end use products, in the future.
What is 3D printing?
3D printing is an additive manufacturing technique used to fabricate physical objects from digital models by layering material on top of one another. This is known as additive manufacturing, as it adds rather than subtracts material from an existing surface. 3D printers have multiple uses from prototyping final products through prototyping prototypes, everything from consumer goods to medical tools! Therefore, understanding what this technology entails and its workings are vital in becoming familiar with it for either professional use or for recreational hobbyist use.
3D printing refers to various technologies, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Fused deposition modeling (FDM), which uses an extruder to layer material layer after layer, is the most widely-used type of 3D printing technology due to being both rapid and cost-effective manufacturing solution.
Stereolithography (SLA) and selective laser sintering (SLS), two other types of 3D printing techniques, use lasers to melt material layers before solidifying them to produce higher-quality parts. However, these processes tend to be more expensive and require specific equipment.
3D printing technology continues to expand in popularity and researchers are exploring innovative uses for it. One innovative application involves printing materials for chemical reactions as templates. This allows scientists to quickly produce customized chemical reaction vessels without purchasing costly laboratory equipment.
3D printing offers another exciting application in creating prosthetics and replacement body parts, which can be especially beneficial to patients who have lost a limb due to disease or accident, or those left with unnatural body shapes following trauma. Custom-designed replacements can make life much more bearable for many individuals.
3D printing technology has found many applications within the automotive industry, as many car companies use the technology to develop prototypes and test out new designs. 3D printed cars tend to be lighter and more durable than traditional vehicles, leading to improved fuel economy and cost reductions. Furthermore, this revolutionary technique has even been utilized as a solution for affordable housing solutions.
What are the different types of 3D printers?
There are various kinds of 3D printers on the market. Fused Deposition Modeling, or FDM printers, are probably the most widely-used. These printers use plastic filament to layer-by-layer build models. FDMs are capable of creating objects of various sizes and materials from simple plastic parts to complex functional prototypes. In addition to FDM printers there are Stereolithography printers which use UV lasers to cast liquid resin models; and selective laser sintering (SLS) printers which utilize high energy lasers to fuse sections together.
Each type of printer offers its own advantages and disadvantages. When selecting the appropriate printer type for you, consider the type of printing you will be doing before making a selection decision. FDM printers may be cost-effective and easy to use, but may not produce as accurate prints as SLA/SLS printers can.
An additional consideration when choosing a 3D printer is its printing volume. All 3D printers have a maximum limit on what size object can be printed based on factors like build platform size and print head reach. Additionally, keep in mind that costs increase as print volumes do.
3D printing has revolutionized the manufacturing industry by enabling designers and engineers to convert CAD models into physical parts quickly and efficiently, which has allowed companies to accelerate product improvements, while speeding them to market faster. One manufacturer of drilling tools used 3D printing to quickly produce 500 high-precision drill caps for testing purposes using this technique. Production time went from weeks down to three days!
As technology has advanced, so have the types of materials that can be printed. Now it is possible to print polymers and metals. In the future, living tissues and organs may even be possible, offering endless new applications in medical or industrial applications.
What are the materials used for printing?
There are various materials suitable for 3D printing, with polymers being the most frequently employed. Made of renewable raw materials, polymers come in an assortment of colors and are versatile in terms of strength, flexibility and durability.
ABS plastic, more commonly known as Lego brick material, is another widely-used printing material. ABS printers can print in various colors while its resilience makes it suitable for home printers with limited budgets. Other plastic printing materials that may be found include polyvinyl alcohol plastic (PVA), which can serve as support material for more permanent prints.
Other materials being utilized for printing include high-impact polystyrene, which makes for great protective cases and wearables; it is resistant to chemical corrosion, can be easily formed into complex shapes, and resists chemical corrosion. Another good choice for snap-fit applications, polyethylene terephthalate can withstand low temperatures as well as resist chemical corrosion.
Nitinol is an extremely flexible print material, and this characteristic makes it perfect for use in medical implants and other delicate parts that must bend without breaking.
Graphene is another material being explored for printing applications, as its unique properties make it ideal for flexible components like touchscreens. Not only is it strong but its electrical conductivity also stands out.
Metals, resins and biological matter can all be utilized for 3D printing. Resin is an extremely flexible material, as it can be applied using different technologies like stereolithography, digital light processing and vat polymerization – often combined with metals or ceramics – while liquid form allows for higher levels of accuracy when printing objects with great detail. Finally, biological matter offers potential for creating fully functioning organs or prostheses.
What are the applications of 3D printing?
3D printing has made waves in industries like healthcare, manufacturing and design – not to mention becoming an invaluable tool for consumer products like hearing aids. When compared with traditional production methods, 3D printing’s cost effectiveness allows it to produce custom-made goods at relatively lower rates. This may allow for higher profit margins with custom designs.
Additive printing differs from other industrial processes in that it builds an object layer by layer. Starting with a digital file translated to physical model form, a 3D printer builds it layer by layer until reaching desired dimensions, producing strong, durable products quickly and cost effectively.
As 3D printing technology evolves, more materials are becoming available for 3D printing. Bio-based materials, including stem cells and artificial blood vessels, have extended what was possible before with this form of 3D printing technology. Engineers have even begun experimenting with printing living tissues such as human organs.
Carbon fiber printing technology is another exciting development, enabling the creation of complex structures which are lighter and stronger than their metal counterparts. If successful, this could enable the construction of buildings or large structures which would have previously been impossible under existing technology.
3D printing technology has expanded beyond industrial uses into medicine as it’s being utilized to manufacture prosthetics and other medical devices for patients directly at their own homes without the need to visit hospitals for fittings. 3D printers offer patients an on-site option which makes life simpler, while producing prosthetics or devices to aid their recovery from injuries or illness.
Military leaders have also adopted 3D printing as a powerful means of streamlining supply chains and on-demand production of equipment like drone airframes or uniforms with built-in sensors and antennas for soldiers.
As costs associated with 3D printing continue to decrease, its adoption may become more widespread across industries and applications. 3D printing could potentially revolutionise our approach to manufacturing everything from cars to toys.