3D printing technology enables a machine to make copies of almost anything, in three dimensions. Which means that you can print something that has height, width, and depth. It is the most astounding development in printing since Gutenberg invented the printing press around 600 years ago.
However, you’ll be surprised to know that the 3D printing process is 30 years old. It’s just that it has been well documented and defined during the last couple of years.
What is 3d printing?
3D printing and Additive manufacturing are the two terms referring to the same process of building a product by adding material, layer by layer, from a CAD (Computer-aided design) file. This is opposite to the traditional manufacturing process, like CNC machining, where the product is built by subtracting material from a sheet or block of material. Operations done on a lathe machine or a drilling machine are another example of subtracting material from metal. People in industries prefer the term ‘Additive manufacturing,’ while on the other hand, the term ‘3D printing’ is used by the media and consumers, and this name has seen a spike in usage ever since a 3D printer became something you could have on your desk.
How does the 3d printing process work?
It’s simple. There are three basic steps in the 3D printing process.
Step 1: Preparation of the 3D file of an object. The 3D file can be prepared from scratch by using CAD software, a 3D scanner to replicate existing objects or just by downloading it from an online market place.
Step 2: The process of printing involves choosing the material which will best achieve the required properties needed for the object. You can choose from plastic, metal, brass, etc. These materials will then decide the technology of 3D printing to be adopted. Not all printers can work with every raw material.
Step 3: Printed objects, often can not be directly used or delivered until they are sanded, lacquered or painted. So some post-production work might be required.
What are the applications of 3D printing technology?
Seeing is believing and the best way to communicate your ideas is through visual tools. 3D printing technology helps architects in creating complex, durable models, in-house, directly from CAD data. It has allowed them to print models of large portion of cities with very intricate details of neighborhoods and urban landscapes, economically.
Manufacturing medical equipment can be expensive. And hence 3D printing technology can produce high quality, cost-effective, ready to use medical equipment.
Lee Cronin, a chemist at the University of Glasgow, describes a prototype 3D printer capable of assembling chemical compounds at the molecular level. Patients would go to an online drugstore with their digital prescription, buy the blueprint and the chemical ink needed, and then print the drug at home. The technique is also beneficial for pharmaceutical industries as it would allow the manufacturing of custom medicines to match every individual’s needs. Progress is already being made in this direction as Louisiana Technical University researchers have printed bio-compatible, biodegradable devices for delivering bone cancer medicines.
Creating traditional prosthetic parts is very time-consuming and resource-intensive. Any modifications to the prosthetic parts can potentially destroy the original molds. 3D printing technology is making it possible to produce low-cost, highly customized prosthetic parts. Customized being the keyword here. Owing to the uniqueness of situations that would warrant a need for prosthetics, 3D printing gives designers a lot of room to tweak their designs and ensure that the user has a comfortable fit.
A printable organ is an artificially constructed device designed for organ replacement, produced using 3D printing technology. The primary purpose of printable organs is in transplantation. 3D printers have been made that are capable of dispensing biodegradable materials (scaffolds) and hydro-gels that hold the cells to be regenerated.
Aerospace & Defense:
In aerospace and defense manufacturing, there is no margin for anything less than perfect. For this reason, success depends on performance, reliability and getting innovative fuel-efficient solutions faster in the market. With additive manufacturing and fused filament fabrication (FFF) technology, prototypes of complex engine structures and final lightweight parts in high-performance thermoplastics are ready with regards to form, fit and function.
Automotive 3d printing technology:
Automotive 3d printing technology is shaping the way cars are imagined, designed and developed. This empowers automotive manufacturers to reduce investment and part costs, maximize assembly-line efficiency, lessen the weight of production tools. As a result, they can stay one step ahead of technical challenges.
3D printing improves manufacturing efficiency with job-specific jigs and assembly fixtures. A 3d printing tool directly from CAD data, on-demand, saves time, lowers costs and reduces inventory requirements.
Future engineers, designers, and problem-solvers deserve every tool available to build a brilliant future. 3d printing technology allows limitless creativity to enable students to get to see, hold and test their ideas in real space. Bringing 3d printing technology into the classroom exposes learners to the same cutting-edge technologies they’ll encounter in their careers and the real market. In short, it gives them a jump-start on tomorrow’s challenges.
Establishing a structure using 3D printing technology is no longer just a theory. There are small numbers of companies already serving it around the globe. For example, a Chinese company named Winsun is now using 3D printing technology to build single houses and apartment buildings at the cost of just $5000 per house. According to this company, an individual house measuring 33 x 132 x 20 feet can be constructed in less than 24 hours.
Or, you could just print yourself a Batman suit 😉
How can you start printing your first 3D objects?
If additive manufacturing has caught your attention and you feel like just making something for fun, you can begin right away. First, you will need a design created on the three co-ordinate axes. There are a bunch of free applications that you can learn to work within a few hours. Here is a good one to get started with, FreeCAD. It doesn’t require you to be an engineer so don’t be dismissive about checking it out!
Once you make select your preferred software and make your first 3D model, you need to export it into a graphic file format. OBJ, VRML, and STL are some standard file formats.
By the way, if you don’t feel like designing, you can just download some graphic files here and entirely skip the above step.
The next step would be to get a 3D printer. However, this will cost some money, and we would advise you to make a wise decision based on your requirements. As cool as 3D printers sound, they can be something that ends up in your attic if it isn’t accessible enough.
Or you could just check out the sites below and send them your graphic file. They will have your designs printed and shipped to your house:
Check if your local libraries offer 3D printing services to the public.
If you are in India:
What does the future hold for 3D printing technology?
The applications listed above, represent a small fraction of the possibilities that affordable 3D printing offers. A 3D printer on a creative professional’s desk is a tool, limited in its application only by his/her imagination.
The biggest verticals across which 3D printing is gaining traction are healthcare, custom products, and rapid prototyping. Moreover, predictions have been made that this technological development will change the nature of commerce. Mostly because the end-users will be able to manufacture their own customized product rather than buying it from other peoples and corporations.
Over the next few years, you can expect 3D printers to print out circuit boards, human tissues, molecule scale printing is also projected to become more pervasive. A combination of nanotechnology and 3D printing could give rise to nano-foundries which would allow rapid manufacturing of a lot of things like, nano-scale electronic components and microscopic support structures or scaffolding. 3D printers should also evolve to be capable of printing a finished product by combining printing of a diverse range of materials in one job.
It is an exciting time to be a creator. Share this post with your friends and get them to join the bandwagon!
In the next post, we will take a look at the three most common challenges in 3D printing.