All about 3D Printing
Printing Press was invented by German Johannes Guttenberg more than 600 years ago and has come a long way since then. New printing technologies have been developed over the years. But, nothing is more shocking and impressive than a machine that can print just about anything, in 3D.
3D printing is the most eye-catching and fascinating development in printing. The idea of printing something in 3D may be considered as science fiction years ago. But, today, it is as real as the food that we eat and the streets we walk on.
Today, 3D printers can print jewelry, guitars, camera lens, figurines, iPhone cases, gear wraps, kaleidoscope clocks, coffee cups, fabrics, and even, a working gun. You can even turn your garage or attic into a small factory using a 3D printer.
So, What Can You Produce Using A 3D Printer?
Just about anything. You can print little things such as 3d name tags, key holders, whistle, headphone stand, toothpaste tube squeezer, upcycled jar greenhouse, citrus juicer, salt and pepper shakes, spare keys, hair comb, dice, belt, mechanical pencil, fly squatter, custom circuit boards, hats, buttons, paper clip, tea pots, earphones, spatula, plate, scissors, spoons, pen holders, and dog tags.
3D printers can also print amazing things. It could print 3D ultrasound images, concept cars, and model houses. And as if flooding Instagram is not enough, you can actually print a life-size version of yourself. You can even put a 3D image of yourself on your birthday or wedding cake, and even print memes. In fact, someone printed a life-size version of “Sad Keanu” in 2014.
What’s amazing about this technology is that it’s now used in the field of medicine. The Wake Forest University School of Medicine uses 3D printing technology to print body parts. Researchers send a scanned image of a body part into the printer, and then it starts building body parts such as fingers, ears, nose, and arms. The goal is to create 3D body parts that doctors could transplant into the patient. A 3Dprinted ear takes about six hours to make. It is still experimental, but it’s amazing and revolutionary!
History of 3D Printing
3D Printing is not developed overnight. In fact, it has a long history that dates back to 1980s. In 1984, Charles Hull invented a process called stereolithography or SLA. It is a form of 3D printing that’s used to create prototypes, models, production parts, and patterns through layering by using a process called photopolymerization.
Photopolymerization is a process of linking molecules using light in order to form polymers. These polymers are used to create patterns. It was used in creating prototypes and medical models.
SLA gave birth to the idea of 3D Printing – a process of producing an object from a digital design. Hull founded a company named 3D Systems and produced the first 3D printing machine.
How 3D Printing Works?
Traditional manufacturing processes rely on old-fashioned methods such as drilling and cutting to link pieces and carve out objects. 3D printing is an additive manufacturing process that builds things by blending together layers of powdered material. This process is performed by a 3D printer that’s controlled by a computer.
3D printers have the following components:
- Laser Source – As discussed earlier, light plays an important role in forming polymers using the photopolymerization process. A laser source creates light that fuses and solidifies the molecules of the raw material.
- Vat – This is where you store your raw material.
- Elevator – The elevator lowers or raises the platform of the printer to lay the pieces together. Remember that the 3D printers create objects by laying layers of polymers.
- Raw Materials – Early models of 3D printers use powdered materials to produce objects. But, more advanced 3D printers use more than one raw material for creating objects.
Technologies Used In 3D Printing
Stereolithography is the foundation of 3D printing. But, it’s not the only technology used in creating 3D prints. Most 3D machines use a combination of other technologies such as:
- Fused Deposition Modelling – This is an additive manufacturing technology. It is commonly used in modelling and prototyping, and works on an additive principle. This means that it builds objects by layers. It was developed by S. Scott Crump in the late 1980s and was used in the manufacturing industry in 1990.
- Selective Laser Sintering or SLS – Like the FDM, SLS is also an additive manufacturing technology that uses a laser as a power source to solidify powdered material. It was developed by Dr. Carl Deckard in the mid-1980s. This technology uses high powered lasers that are often expensive.
- PolyJet – This is a 3D printing technology that jets layers of liquid photopolymers to build complex geometries. It is used to produce objects that have intricate designs and fine details. This technology allows you to combine different materials and colors to produce a realistic finish.
Some machines also use lesser known 3D techniques such as electron beam melting or EBM and laminated object manufacturing or LOM.
3D Printing Raw Materials
There are about 170 raw materials that are divided into four main categories – plastic, powder, resins, and other materials.
Here’s a list of the most common materials:
- Plastic – This is the most common raw material used in FDM printing technology. Here’s a list of the common plastic materials:
- Polylactic Acid (Regular or SoftPLA)
- Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene
- Polyvinyl Alcohol Plastic or PVA
- Powders – High end 3D printers use powder. Here’s a list of the most common powder raw materials:
- Polymide (Nylon)
- Multicolor Powder
- Resins – Resins are delicate and rigid. So, they are not commonly used in 3D printing.
- Paintable Resin
- High Detail Resin
- Transparent Resin
Some 3D printers use a wide variety of materials such as:
- Hot glue
- Bone material
- Bio ink
- Stainless steel
- Full color sandstone
Uses of 3D Printing
3D printing is considered as the future of manufacturing. It is used in various industries, such as:
- Automotive industry – This industry uses 3D printing technology in developing new engines.
- Aerospace – 3D printing is used to produce lightweight parts for aircraft and space vehicles.
- Defense – This is utilized in producing light-weight parts for surveillance equipment.
- Entertainment – This technology is used to produce the prototype of action figures, toys, and musical equipment.
- Manufacturing – 3D printing is used to create product models before they are mass-produced.
- Healthcare – The medical field is doing tons of research on the potential of using 3D printed organs for transplant.
- Education – This technology is used for design initiatives in various art schools.
- Architecture – This is used for scaled modeling. It is also used for design review and structure verification.
What’s Next in 3D Printing?
Years ago, 3D printing was considered as the most fascinating technology. Today, it’s still big and continues to grow. The 3D printing global expenditure is $11 billion in 2015. It is projected to rise to $27 billion in 2017.
You still can’t find 3D printers in a typical American home. So, it does not have widespread consumer adoption. But, top manufacturers are starting to embrace 3D technology because it’s cost-effective. For starters, General Electric has purchased two European 3D companies for more than $1 billion. After the acquisition, GE is expected to grow its business to around $1 billion dollars by 2020. They also expect to save around $5 billion dollars in production costs.
Years ago, 3D is merely used in prototyping. But, with the advancements in raw materials, it is now used in the actual manufacturing process. Several metal powders and resins can be used to produce mechanical and electrical parts of the products.
You can cheaply and quickly replace a broken window or a cabinet by printing it at home. If you don’t have a 3D printer, you can simply scan the broken part of your window or cabinet and send the specs to a print shop. In fact, a 3D printing service called Shapeways makes 3D printing more accessible to consumers. They print intricate rings and lens protectors. The company also uses a wide array of raw materials such as precious metals, plastics, steel, and food-safe ceramics.
Soon, 3D printers can print kidneys, skin, tissues, and bones. This is something that’s both remarkable and terrifying.