what is 3d printing and how it works

What Is 3D Printing? How Does It Work?

Aside from drones and Artificial Intelligence, 3D printing is one of the most exciting technological innovations of our times. With countless applications across various fields and industries, it is no surprise that 3D printers have been making waves in the technology scene.

From hospitals to factories and learning institutions, everyone is lining up to get their hands on the latest models of 3D printers in the market. So, just what is all the rage about this innovation?

Below, we look at what 3D printing is and how it works!

What is 3D Printing?

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, refers to a process of creating three-dimensional objects, one layer at a time, from a digital file. This is achieved through the application of additive processes, whereby the object is made by laying successive films of a special “ink” on top of each other until the final model is created.

Essentially, 3D printing can be considered as the reverse of subtractive manufacturing, which involves cutting out a piece of plastic or metal using a milling machine. Overall, 3D printing technology allows you to come up with complex shapes with much less raw material compared to traditional methods of manufacturing.

How Does 3D Printing Work?

3D printing is a multifaceted procedure that involves several steps. These include:

3D Modeling

This is the first step in the 3D printing process. It involves creating a graphic image of the object to be printed using 3D modeling software. Some of these models are too detailed and intricate for traditional manufacturing processes, that is where the CAD (Computer-Aided Design) software comes in.

This type of modeling allows the 3D printer to customize the product design to the smallest detail. The ability of the software to deliver precise designs is what makes this technology such a game-changer across various industries.

Slicing the Model

Once the model has been designed by the software, the next step is digitally slicing the model. Considering that a 3D printer can’t conceptualize the three dimensions of the model like humans, this vital phase breaks down the design into multiple layers.

The multiple-layer designs are then sent to the 3D printer to lay down in order from the bottom to the top. The slicing is completed with the help of a slicer program such as Astroprint or Craftware.

This software also handles the “fill” of the design by making a mesh structure for added stability. Thanks to this phase of 3D printing, the printer manages to produce very strong prints using relatively low-density materials by strategically adding air pockets inside the resulting product.

Furthermore, the slicing software helps to add in supportive columns where necessary. These columns serve to bridge the gaps for the printer since the plastic can’t be laid down in the air.

Later on, the columns are removed for a smooth final product. After the slicing program is done, the information is relayed to the printer for the final phase of 3D printing.

3D Printing

This is where the actual printing of the 3D model happens, and where the physical aspect of the 3D printer comes into play. Typically, the 3D printer behaves pretty much like an inkjet printer controlled from a computer.

The device builds up the 3D print one layer after the other, starting from the bottom to the top. It repeatedly prints over the same region in a process known as FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling).

The 3D printer works automatically to create the model over a certain duration by transforming the CAD drawing into multiple 2-dimensional and cross-sectional layers. By printing these on top of each other, a third dimension to the object is created.

Rather than using ordinary ink, 3D printers use molten plastic or powder, which is deposited continuously and fused with ultraviolet light or adhesive. This solidifies once exposed to the air, resulting in a concrete 3D object.

What Type of “Ink” is Used for 3D Printing?

Whereas laser printers and inkjet printers use solid powder and liquid ink respectively, 3D printers spray molten plastic through a tiny nozzle that moves around precisely. The accuracy is made possible through computer control.

The machine prints a single layer and pauses for it to dry before printing the next layer. This cycle continues until it gets to the topmost layer of the model. If you’re using a high-quality device, the final print is generally stunning and looks just like its traditionally manufactured counterpart.

What are the Applications of 3D Printing?

Thanks to their various applications across industries, 3D printers are very versatile devices that have become an integral part of our lives. In essence, these machines can create practically anything that comes to mind, as long as you can create a digital file on the computer.

The only limitation here is the type of materials the printer can use as the “ink” and the final size of the print. You’ll not be in a position to print large objects such as a house or car but you can print smaller parts like a steering wheel or doorknob.

Typically, 3D printers can use concrete, plastic, metal, or animal cells as printing materials. Nevertheless, most are designed to use just one of these materials at a time. The best thing about 3D printing is it allows you to print almost anything.

From simple household items to much more complex industrial parts, applications of 3D printing cut across all kinds of fields. Some of the main beneficiaries of 3D technology include:

  • Medicine
  • Foods
  • Manufacturing
  • Automobiles
  • Learning institutions
  • Military
  • Building and engineering
  • Fashion and clothing
  • Music and art
  • Movies and film making
  • Sports, etc.

What are the Benefits of 3D Printing?

3D printing offers a plethora of benefits, especially when compared to traditional manufacturing processes such as CNC milling and injection molding. Some of the most desirable attributes of 3D printing are:

Fast Production

Although it can be slow in some cases, 3D printing is generally faster than conventional manufacturing procedures like subtractive production and injection molding. The best 3D printers today can complete a print in a matter of minutes.

Easy Access

While 3D printing technology has been with us for decades, it is in the 2010s that it really exploded. Since then, more professionals have embraced it and thanks to the evolution of the technology, there are more affordable devices being produced for the ordinary enthusiast.

Furthermore, you can find open-source software packages, which make it easy for anyone with interest to access the technology.

Higher Quality Products

One of the major features of 3D printing is that it allows for consistency when it comes to the quality of objects printed. As long as you maintain the same model of printer and ensure that it is accurately programmed, the final print will always be of the same standard of quality one print after the other.

Cost-Effective

Compared to traditional methods of manufacturing, 3D printing will save you a lot in terms of raw materials used. A high percentage of the procedure is automated, and once the graphic model is created, the rest of the process is seamless. There is very little wastage of raw materials and very little human effort needed.

Great for Creating Prototypes

3D printing offers a convenient way to come up with prototypes of products and test them before releasing them to the market. It provides you with opportunities to create various designs so that you can test them to allow for easy fine-tuning.

Infinite Product Designs

There is no limit to this new frontier in the form of 3D printing technology. You can design and create almost anything that your mind can conceive; something that makes it applicable to all kinds of industries.

As long as you can design its CAD and have a big enough printer to produce the required size, then you can leave the rest to your imagination.

Conclusion

For many experts out there, 3D printing technology is the future of manufacturing! This is thanks to the numerous applications it boasts across fields and the cheaper, more convenient alternative to traditional manufacturing that it offers.

As more companies continue to adapt it and more households begin to embrace 3D printers, the sky’s the limit for 3D printing technology.

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