What is 3D printing?
3D printing is defined as the action or process of making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many thin layers of a material in succession. It may sound complex, but it’s actually a very simple process.
3D printers work by melting thin plastic wires through an extrusion arm. The arm moves back and forth over and over again until the first layer of the object is laid down. It then repeats the process for the second layer and continues to repeat until the last layer is complete. The best way to imagine this is a cube. The printer would first print a square, and it would continue to repeat that exact square, slowly adding more and more material, making the square thicker until it becomes a cube.
But why is it useful?
At first glance, 3D printing does not seem very practical at all. The machine to product space ratio severely limits productively, and molding plastic works just as well, right? Wrong. 3D printing allows the ability to use a water/alcohol soluble plastic that can fill gaps, which can later be dissolved. This is commonly used as structural support as the printer is printing, but can also be used to allow temporary connectivity to certain components. Think of a whistle. If you printed the ball and the case separately, you would not be able to insert the ball. This support allows the ball to be printed “free-floating” inside of the case.
3D printing also allows what is called “Rapid Prototyping”. Rapid prototyping is the process of being able to design something, prototype and test it, and repeat. It may take a couple of hours to re-print the item, but that’s much faster than re-calibrating an entire production line just to test one prototype.
What are 3D printers capable of?
3D printers capabilities are ENDLESS! A few examples are everyday items, Automobile components, and hardware. It is also being used on NASA space shuttles to print tools and repair components, in kitchens to print things like pizza, cookies, and cake, and even in hospitals, performing surgeries and printing skin tissue and other organs.
3D printers are not limited to just plastic as the print material as you can see. You can print plastic, nickel, iron, rubber, glass, food, and even wood. Not all printers will be able to handle all materials, so be sure to check that the printer you are planning to purchase meets your requirements. We will have an upcoming post that will compare all of the popular 3D printers in great detail so you can make a well-informed decision.
It’s is truly astonishing what can be created using a 3D printer. We only covered the basics of 3D printing here, so be sure to keep an eye out for our in-depth explanation of the entire 3D printing process, from concept, to object.