That, ladies and gentlemen, is 3D printing.
What Is 3D Printing?
3D printing is exactly what it sounds like — printing three-dimensional objects, simple as that. Whether you know it as 3D printing or additive manufacturing, it’s more technical name, 3D printing builds objects layer-by-layer. In this regard, 3D printing is different from alternative processes like subtractive manufacturing because it builds on layers instead of cutting and drilling larger blocks of material to carve out the final product.
The process begins with objects being designed as 3D models, which are then sent to the printer for printing. This, coupled with the layer-by-layer building process, allows 3D printers to produce intricate designs with complex internal structures. As for the raw materials, 3D printers can use, the list is quite extensive and includes a wide range of plastics, metals, woods, foods and yes, even human cells.
3D Printers and 3D Printing TechnologyAs with many things in life, 3D printers come in different varieties that range from size to printing methods and technology. The four most common types you’ll encounter are Stereolithography (SLA), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Focused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and MultiJet Modeling (MJM), and here’s a little something about each.
1. Stereolithography (SLA)SLA is considered by most to be the pioneer of 3D printing. It uses a vat of liquid photopolymer resin that is cured by a UV laser, solidifying the resin layer-by-layer to create smooth finished products.
2. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)Out of these four 3D printer types, SLS is the one you’ll most likely encounter as you delve into the 3D printing world. It uses a high-power laser to fuse together tiny particles of raw material (powder), and the laser is controlled by a computer that traces a cross-section of the object onto the powder. The heat of the laser is equal to or slightly lower than the boiling point of the powder, and as soon as the initial layer is formed, the platform lowers a tiny amount — no more than 0.1mm — layer-by-layer until the product is finished.
3. Focused Deposition Modeling (FDM)FDM is used for modeling, prototyping and product applications. As with the previous printers, FDM uses layer-by-layer printing, but instead of powder, it heats a thermoplastic material to a semi-liquid state. Raw materials are supplied from the printer’s bays and the printer head moves based on X and Y coordinates, only moving vertically (Z-axis) once a layer has been completed.
4. MultiJet Modeling (MJM)MJM is similar to your typical inkjet printer and is sometimes referred to as thermojet printing. It’s a rapid prototyping process that can create wax-like plastic models with linear nozzles that spray a colored glue-like material onto a resin powder, and because it has fewer limitations than other printers, can create extremely detailed objects with a thickness of 16-microns.
Uses of 3D PrintingWith all these printer types, 3D printing is revolutionizing every single industry it touches. As company executives face mounting pressure to cut costs and increase efficiency, they’re finding 3D printing technology to be the answer to their pleas.
For example, the automotive industry is printing lightweight parts that increase mileage and reduce emissions; the aerospace industry is doing the same for parts and tooling, jigs and fixtures; architects are leveraging 3D printing for structure verification and reverse-structure engineering; the construction industry is going above and beyond by printing entire homes; medical officials are printing prosthetics and even actual organs; chefs are printing eye-catching desserts; and much much more.