How Does 3D Printing Work?

The emergence of 3D printing has profoundly changed the dynamics of manufacturing in several production sectors, but how exactly does 3d printing work?

3D printing has emerged as a multifaceted technique of rapid prototyping and manufacturing. For the past few decades, 3D printing has been bringing about significant impressions in different industries and production sectors. 3D printing falls under the category of manufacturing technology known as additive manufacturing. It is a process where a product is created by adding the material layer over the layer. Over the years, additive manufacturing has been known by several names, like stereolithography and 3D layering, but the most common one used to refer to it is 3D printing.

3d printing
3d printing

How does a 3D printer work?

The 3D printing process starts with the creation of a graphic template. With the help of Computer-Aided Design software, also known as CAD, the item to be printed is designed. It can be a time consuming and labor-intensive stage of the course. Softwares such as Fusion360, TinkerCAD, and Sketchup are usually used for this purpose.

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Depending on the complexity of a product, there are extensive tests in simulation to detect any potential flaws in the last print. However, this is not the case if the product is essentially decorative. When it comes to 3D printing, you are only limited by your imagination, as it allows rapid prototyping of almost anything.

As a matter of fact, 3D printing comes in handy when we are talking about products that are just too complicated to be crafted using the conventional prototyping and traditional manufacturing processes. 3D printing is not just cheap but also a more effective prototyping alternative of molding or CNC milling.

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Stages of 3D Printing

Once the design stage is complete, the next step is to slice the model digitally and have it ready for printing. This step is crucial because a 3D printer is not able to conceptualize a 3D mock-up the way humans do. The process of splicing strips the template into different layers, which are then forwarded to the printer nozzle for printing or laying down.

There are programs such as Astroprint or CraftWare used for slicing the 3D models. These softwares are also responsible for handling the type of 'fill' for the model if required. It is achieved by generating a lattice structure on the inner side of a model for additional stability. Another advantage that the 3D printers have in this area is that they allow you to print sturdy material with low density. This is due to the strategically added portions of air within the product.

The slicer program is also responsible for the addition of support columns if required. Columns are used by the 3D printers to connect the gaps as plastic cannot be compiled in thin air. Later, these columns can be removed if required. When the slicer in software is done doing its part, the file is then directed to the 3D printer for the last stage.

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3D Printer Operation

After that, the 3D printer takes control of the operation. The process of printing will start, using the specific directions provided by the slicer software with the help of different techniques, differing with the type of 3D printer being used. For instance, in the case of direct 3D printing, it uses the same technique as the inkjet technology where the nozzles are moving from side to side, up and down to dole out the specific printing material. The material will keep on solidifying to form the new cross-sections of the 3D product until the final shape is achieved. In MultiJet modeling, several dozens of outlets work in unison to achieve quick modeling.

The process of Binder 3D printing consists of inkjet nozzles using a binder or glue and a fine powder, to shape each layer of the model. The process involves making two lapses to form a single layer. In the first one, the nozzle deposits a fine layer of powder, followed by a pass that applies the binding agent. The 3D printing process called photopolymerization uses drops of liquid plastic and exposes them to a laser beam of UV light. As a result, the liquid is converted into a solid. In Sintering, the particles are fused and melted together to form successive layers.

What are the steps of 3D Printing?

Regardless of what 3D printer you are using, the general process follows the same following steps.

  1. Create a 3D model in a CAD program.
  2. Convert the CAD model into the STL (standard tessellation language) format. Mostly, STL files are used along with file types like ObjDF and ZPR.
  3. Transfer the STL file to the PC that operates the machine. The orientation and size of the 3D print are confirmed by the user at this stage.
  4. The printer setup is complete and it is ready for 3D printing. The prerequisites for a setup like recharging the 3D filament polymers, binding agents, and other supplies vary with each device.
  5. Initiate the build and wait for the machine to print the product. The printer needs to be checked frequently during the process to counter any issues.
  6. Retrieve the final product from the printer.
  7. Proceed to the post-processing. Usually, there is some sort of post-processing needed in 3D printers, such as dusting away leftover powder or rinsing the printed product to get rid of water-soluble elements. The freshly printed object may also require post curing.

What can a 3D Printer be Used For?

As mentioned previously, 3D printers are extremely versatile devices that can in theory, print pretty much anything that one could imagine. The major limitation for 3D printers is the type of ink or 3D filament, and the size of the device. These factors can limit the multidimensional nature of 3D printers. With the help of a 3D printer, you can print in plastic, metal, concrete, etc. Although, 3D printers are mostly intended to use only a certain type of consumable.

Here is a list of a few objects and products that can be printed with the help of a 3D printer.

  • Prosthetic body parts
  • 3D Printer houses and other similar structures
  • Vegan meat and other similar food products
  • Medicine
  • Weapons
  • Glass objects
  • Acrylic products
  • Film and TV props
  • Musical instruments
  • Wearing Apparel
  • Medical models and products