What is 3D Printing?
3D printing refers to processes in which material is joined or solidified under computer control to create a three-dimensional object, with material being added together (such as liquid molecules or powder grains being fused together).
3D printing is used in both rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing (AM). Objects can be of almost any shape or geometry and typically are produced using digital model data from a 3D model or another electronic data source such as an Additive Manufacturing File (AMF) file (usually in sequential layers). There are many different technologies, like stereolithography (SLA) or fused deposit modeling (FDM).
Thus, unlike material removed from a stock in the conventional machining process, 3D printing or AM builds a three-dimensional object from computer-aided design (CAD) model or AMF file, usually by successively adding material layer by layer.
The term "3D printing" originally referred to a process that deposits a binder material onto a powder bed with inkjet printer heads layer by layer. More recently, the term is being used in popular vernacular to encompass a wider variety of additive manufacturing techniques. United States and global technical standards use the official term additive manufacturing for this broader sense, since the final goal of additive manufacturing is to achieve mass-production, which greatly differs from 3D printing for Rapid prototyping.
How does 3D Printing Work?
Every 3D print starts as a digital 3D design file – like a blueprint – for a physical object. Trying to print without a design file is like trying to print a document on a sheet of paper without a text file. This design file is sliced into thin layers which is then sent to the 3D printer.
From here on the printing process varies by technology, starting from desktop printers that melt a plastic material and lay it down onto a print platform to large industrial machines that use a laser to selectively melt metal powder at high temperatures. The printing can take hours to complete depending on the size, and the printed objects are often post-processed to reach the desired finish.
Available materials also vary by printer type, ranging from plastics to rubber, sandstone, metals and alloys - with more and more materials appearing on the market every year.
Advantages of 3D Printing
- Objects are created from a digital file, so there is no waste
- Produce customized goods quickly and relatively cheaply
- Puts the power in the hands of the creator
- Both labor and costs can be dramatically reduced
- Manufacturers cut waste by printing parts on demand
- Improved complexity by using 3D printing
- Uses less material, can be made lighter and stronger
As the cheapest 3D printing technology on the market, FDM also offers a wide variety of plastic-based materials in a rainbow of colors including ABS, PLA, nylon and even more exotic material blends including carbon, bronze or wood.
FDM is a great choice for quick and low-cost prototyping and can be used for a wide variety of applications. More recent innovations in FDM 3D printing include the ability to manufacture functional end products with embedded electronics and mechanical parts such as drones. Due to some design and material limitations, FDM 3D printing is not recommended for more intricate designs.
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