3-D printing is already quite useful in fields as diverse as automotive, medical, aerospace and consumer electronics.
Designers don’t need to wait for parts to be shipped, they don’t need advanced skills to tinker, and they can adjust specifications and create new iterations quickly.
Additive manufacturing or 3D printing is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model or software drawing. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes. 3D printing is also considered distinct from traditional machining techniques, which mostly rely on the removal of material by methods such as cutting or drilling (subtractive processes).
A materials printer usually performs 3D printing using digital technology. The first working 3D printer was created in 1984 by Chuck Hull of 3D Systems Corp. Since the start of the 21st century there has been a large growth in the sales of these machines, and their price has dropped substantially making them affordable in both home and business use.
Although various techniques are used, all 3D printers use methods of “additive fabrication,” which build the part one layer at a time. The building material can be a liquid, powder or sheet material that is cured by heat, UV light, a chemical reaction or other processes.
The term “3D printing” has evolved to include both rapid prototyping and rapid manufacturing. Initially, 3D printers, referred only to the relatively small, inexpensive office-based machines that jet a wax, photopolymer or binder. Increasingly, the term refers to any machine that uses a method of additive fabrication either in the office or shop floor.
The 3D printing technology is used for both prototyping and distributed manufacturing with applications in architecture, construction (AEC), industrial design, automotive, aerospace, military, engineering, civil engineering, dental and medical industries, biotech (human tissue replacement), fashion, footwear, jewelry, eyewear, education, geographic information systems, food, and many other fields.
For many companies, the logic of 3-D printing is already clear. Because 3-D printers build an object by layering plastic or other material guided by a design file, they eliminate the waste of traditional manufacturing, in which up to 90 percent of raw materials can be discarded. The printers can work all day and night unattended. They can print interlocking parts, reducing or eliminating the need for assembly. They will enable companies to shorten supply chains, instantly distribute goods to any printer and quickly make replacement parts. And they can create objects with geometries and internal complexities that traditional factory machines can’t match.
3-D printing is already quite useful in fields as diverse as automotive, medical, aerospace and consumer electronics. Designers don’t need to wait for parts to be shipped, they don’t need advanced skills to tinker, and they can adjust specifications and create new iterations quickly. As a result, they can try out zany ideas at a relatively low cost.
Ease of Use
This ability to easily experiment, combined with a technology that creates shapes that can’t be made any other way, may become increasingly powerful. From an engineering perspective, complexity is free: The cost, time and skill necessary for 3-D printing a complicated object is roughly the same as for a simple one made of the same amount of material. As a result, inventors will be freed to dream up products in shapes and material combinations never attempted before, unburdened by the design logic of traditional manufacturing. They’ve already made progress integrating electronics into 3-D printed goods; down the line, they’ll be able to embed sensors, smart technology and artificial intelligence.
As personal printers get better and cheaper, they’re reducing the expense and risk for individual inventors to become manufacturers. The cost of customization is almost eliminated, because the printers don’t require retooling to make new shapes, and entrepreneurs don’t need to sell big batches of identical items; they can print to order. For a small business, a 3-D printer can eliminate excess production and the need for warehousing, and diminish the costs of distribution. Enthusiasts like to imagine a future in which a 3-D printer in every home will produce all you need, customized and on-demand. A more likely scenario is that people will use a print shop to produce designs they’ve purchased from entrepreneurs or created themselves. In Europe, Staples Inc. is collaborating with Mcor Technologies Ltd. on just such a strategy: Customers can upload design files to a website, and have the product printed at their local Staples.
Polylactic Acid (PLA) and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) are two of the easiest materials for the beginner 3D printer to use. PLA is a biodegradable thermoplastic that has been derived from renewable resources like corn starch and sugar cane. This makes PLA environmentally friendly and very safe to work with. PLA also has a very sharp glass transition point so if you use a fan to cool it, it will set into a solid very quickly. PLA can achieve a greater range of geometries than are possible with other plastics. It also reduces the thermal stress on the printed part, making warping less of an issue with larger PLA parts. PLA does not require any curing or post-production treatment. Should you wish to, however, PLA can be sanded and coated with automotive spray filler. PLA can also be painted over with acrylic paint.
ABS is considered the second easiest material to work with when you start 3D printing. The same kid-safe material that Legos are made of, ABS is also a strong and tough engineering polymer commonly used to produce car bumpers. Though durable, considerations must be made when printing larger objects as thermal stress can cause ABS to warp as the part cools. ABS is suitable for light, rigid, molded products with good shock absorption and wear resistance. ABS has a matte appearance and is available in 16 colors, including glow in the dark and metallic silver.
Color Jet Printing (CJP) is an additive manufacturing technology which involves two major components – core and binder. The core material is spread in thin layers over the build platform with a roller. After each layer is spread, color binder is selectively jetted from inkjet print heads over the core layer, which causes the core to solidify. The build platform lowers with every subsequent layer which is spread and printed, resulting in a full-color three-dimensional model.
Stereolithography Apparatus (SLA) ushered in rapid prototyping. With stereolithography, parts are built from a liquid photopolymer, and each layer is created by a UV laser that cures one cross section at a time. At the end, the excess resin and supports are removed, and the whole part is cured.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) builds prototypes and final parts from powdered plastics and metals that are heated by a laser. At the end of the job, the excess powder is removed and recycled for the next build.
Direct Metal Sintering (DMS), or metal 3D printing, is the process for people wishing to manufacture small complex parts at high quality and speed and safely manipulate materials. Materials used in DMS include stainless steel, tool steel, super alloys, non-ferrous alloys, precious metals and alumina. Applications include custom dental prostheses, orthopedic implants, tire molds, watch manufacturing, aerospace parts and more. In addition, these systems are widely used for direct creation of conformal tooling, tooling insert and blow mold production.