What is 3D Printing?

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3D printing is an additive process in which three-dimensional objects are made from digital files. It entails laying down a series of layers of material until the object is created. This innovative production process uses materials like plastic, ceramic, metal, or any other material to make complex shapes.

The relative ease with which we can now produce literally any three-dimensional object by generating thin layers over and over to produce the final product is amazing.

Choosing the Right 3D Printing Technology for your Business

Despite the numerous advantages of 3D printing, every process has its benefits and limitations depending on the specific application.

While deciding on the particular 3D printing application you will need to factor in a lot of issues. This includes budget, price of parts and raw materials, and the production process to the end product.

At the production level, you will need to consider Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Stereolithography (SLA), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), or metal deposition.

Each production process works with different materials and as a result, will offer different outcomes.

In addition issues such as the required material, desired characteristics of the end product in terms of accuracy, build size and application will need to be carefully assessed.

What are the Benefits of 3D printing?

Easier Customization

3D printing can be a great asset for your business as it allows for quick prototyping and production. 3D printing allows you to design and print more complex designs compared to traditional manufacturing processes. This helps to eliminate the complexity that comes with customization without incurring additional costs.

With a  3D printer, you take up less time, energy, material to manufacture a complex shape through a simple process. Because 3D printing does not require the initial cost of a mold, and specific tooling that is part of traditional manufacturing techniques it is highly efficient and customizable.

To create a different product all one has to do is simply update their 3D file. Since the price of production is the same for one or any number of 3D printed parts, it becomes an efficient way to produce an unlimited amount of identical parts.

More Eco Friendly

3D printed manufacturing significantly reduces energy waste and has a relatively smaller carbon footprint compared to traditional manufacturing processes. Essentially 3D printing is all about producing affordable products in an efficient and effective manner with a target of almost zero waste.

Because the focus is on high quality, efficiency, and low volume manufacturing, 3D is as eco-friendly as it gets.

Faster Product Development

With 3D printing technology, even small businesses can design, prototype, and develop products at faster rates. The technology’s relative cost and time advantages to creating prototypes could take as much as a few hours compared to weeks using traditional processes with expensive molds or tools.

Better Design Creation with 3D Printing

With 3D printing, you can continue to experiment with design until you are satisfied. 3D printable models can be created with Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software. In this way, the 3D printed models created come out with fewer errors than other methods. Errors in 3D printable models can also be easily identified and corrected before printing compared to traditional manual modeling processes. You can also opt to use a 3D scanning process to collect the digital data on the shape and appearance of a real object and go right to printing it in 3 D.

More Beneficial Workflow

The simple fact that 3D printing is scalable and affordable offers opportunities for businesses to introduce it into their production workflows. A digital workflow ending with a 3D print results in a more accurate product. Thus reducing errors and inaccuracies that could result in wastage and loss in time to boost productivity in the workflow.

Better Supply Chain Management

3D printing is an energy-efficient and cost-effective production method. It comes with minimal waste, allows for on-demand production, therefore, preventing overproduction and excess inventory. The easy access of the technology will help businesses take production literally to any location or get products to customers with less lead time. Because the process is toolless, manufacturers get the flexibility to tailor offerings to clients’ specific requirements without investing in additional components or tools.

Common 3D Printing Materials

There are a variety of 3D printing materials to choose from when creating products using 3D printing. Before selecting the material you plan to use, review our list.

Using Plastics for 3D Printing

3D models made from plastics are often used to create prototypes, toys, and household fixtures. They are popular because of their firmness, flexibility, smoothness, and a large range of color options. In addition, they are relatively affordable. There are several options of plastic materials available for 3D printing with each offering unique qualities that make it best suited to specific uses.

ABS

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is a common polymer used in the 3D printing process. It offers good impact resistance at low temperatures enabling you to create lightweight parts. And it is usually printed with a nozzle temperature of around 210-250 °C (410°-482° F) and is mainly used to produce appliances, hulls of boats, decoration pieces, toys, and more. It is quite versatile and can be sanded, and by mixing ABS with acetone, it can be easily glued together or smoothed to a glass-like finish.

PLA

Polylactic acid or Polylactideis (PLA)is a biodegradable plastic typically made from corn, sugarcane, or potatoes. It is extracted at a lower temperature with a nozzle temperature of around 180°-230°C (356°- 446°F). And it does not require a heated bed so you can use painter’s tape instead. It is easy to print, very inexpensive, biodegradable, and you can reate parts that can be used for a wide variety of applications. Its positive attributes include low warping that makes it effortless to print with and it can be printed on a cold surface. While it likes sturdiness compared to other materials, it can deform with extreme heat exposure.

Nylon

Nylon is reputed for being a tough and semi-flexible material that offers high impact and abrasion resistance. This comes in handy for printing durable parts, textiles, and accessories. It is an ideal option for complicated or delicate geometries. And it is inexpensive and one of the sturdiest plastic materials with minimal warping and easy to dye or color. It is however susceptible to water and needs to be kept dry. It also may tend to shrink during cooling, making prints less precise. Nylon filaments typically require extruder temperatures between 220- 250 ºC (428°- 482°F).

Resin

This is also another common 3D printing material that uses plastic resin as the raw material. It has a low shrinkage property and is highly chemical resistant. It also offers a faster printing process compared to printing with a filament. And it can be used to make figurines, chess pieces, rings, accessories, and fixtures. 3D models are printed using resin with temperatures ranging from between 200-300°C (392°-572°F). Resin is on the expensive side

Other Plastics Commonly Used for 3D Printing

  • TPU or Thermoplastic Polyurethane is a flexible, abrasion-resistant thermoplastic. It can help create 3D printed objects that are durable and have the ability to withstand ambient temperatures of up to 80 degrees Celsius (176°F). It is great for making phone cases, rubber mats, and stress toys.
  • PETG or glycolized polyester is a relatively stronger material than ABS which is food safe. But has low shrinking defects. It however can stick to the print surface and be used to make food storage containers, packaging, and prosthetic devices.
  • ASA comes with strong ultraviolet and chemical resistance properties. It is easy to post-process but requires high printing temperatures. It is often used to make bumper covers, garden equipment, and fixtures.
  • PEI (ULTEM) or (Polyetherimide) is a good choice for building surfaces for any 3D printer. The amber-colored surface is resistant to chemical attack and does not degrade when exposed to outdoor conditions. This makes it ideal for making ventilation systems, latches, and cable ducts.

Using Metals for 3D Printing

Metal 3D printing, also known as Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) uses a laser beam to melt 20-60 micron layers of metal powder to make durable parts from metal powders. They mostly help to create tool components and finished parts for the aerospace and automotive industries. Through these metals, you can produce components that have lower weight and costs.

Aluminum

Perhaps the most commonly used material in metal 3D printing aluminum is mainly used in alloy form. It is useful because it offers properties with good resistance and withstands high voltages while being light. It is mainly used when keeping weight down is essential, such as in the aeronautics and automotive industries. With it, you can make high detail in design to create complex geometries. The melting point for aluminum is 670°C (1238°F) making it an ideal material for prototyping. Besides the relatively high cost, it typically requires several builds to fine-tune a part’s design for mass production through 3D metal printing.

Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel is another 3D printing metal material with a high melting point of 1400 °C ( 2552°F). This makes it ideal for demanding projects of various manufacturing methods as well as for prototyping. It also offers applications in the medical industry such as the production of customized orthopedics. The heat resistance, corrosion-free, and abrasion tolerant properties make it popular in the aerospace and automobile industries to produce parts. However it is time-consuming to print, in some cases at the microscopic level, printed stainless steels are usually highly porous, making them weak and prone to fracture.

Other Common 3D Printing Materials

  • Ceramic: Ceramics have properties that can withstand extreme pressure and temperature without warping or breaking. It’s less likely to get corroded and doesn’t easily wear away thus giving it an edge over metals and plastics. They are popular for high-precision works and provide smooth, glossy finishes. They are also highly resistant to heat, acid, and lye. The downside is that they require very high temperatures to melt, are fragile, and are not particularly a great choice for piece assembly production.
  • Paper: Paper can be used as a material for 3D printing and can be printed to make it have a feel like wood. However 3D paper prints lack durability and the detail found with other materials. It is liable to shrink as it dries which makes getting the exact dimensions a problem.
  • Food: Food is also being used as a material in 3D printing. You can make a large number of food items including purées, jelly, cheese. This technology is also being used by NASA and can also help limit food wastage.

An Overview of 3D Printing

3D printing also referred to as Additive Manufacturing (AM) can help you create a design of an object using software and then the 3D printer creates the object by adding layer upon layer of material until the shape of the object is formed. The final object can be made using any number of printing materials that may include plastics, metals, powders, filaments and paper.

The benefits derived from 3D printing include short production runs; easy and quick prototyping; quick customizability and adaptation; the ability to create complex shapes; cost-effectiveness; and reduced waste. It has revolutionized production systems thanks to the fact that it prints parts in layers. This makes it possible to create complex objects that have internal structures or subassemblies in one single run which was previously difficult to do using traditional means of production.

Another innovation with this means of production is that material is added rather than subtracted. Here raw materials are added to build an object rather than removing or scrapping material. This enables mass manufacturing runs without the need for individual tooling or hand-crafting. This in turn helps conserve raw materials and creates an efficient design and production process.

The worldwide 3D printing industry was valued at around 12.6 billion dollars in 2020. It is expected to grow at an annual rate of some 17% between 2020 and 2023. 3D printing technology is truly innovative and has emerged as a versatile technology offering a wide range of applications adopted by a wide range of industries.

3D Printers

Essentially 3D printers are like an inkjet printer that creates a solid 3D model from a variety of materials rather than producing a simple paper document. 3D printers are a form of additive manufacturing that uses materials and precision tools to create a three-dimensional object from scratch. There are many different 3D printer software tools available ranging from industrial grade to open source. With a 3D printer, you can make pretty much anything from toys, machine parts, jewelry, and even cakes.

They are replacing traditional factory production lines with one single machine. With a printable file, you can use an ordinary PC to connect to a 3D printer and press ‘print’ to get your 3D print instantly. A desktop 3D Printer at your business can offer endless opportunities. Though printing speed might vary from model to model and the particular material you use. However, it remains a speedy option to produce prototypes, parts and create anything you need in very little time. They can also help to make high-quality industrial parts with a fraction of the cost of traditional manufacturing. You also get the capability to innovate and add tweaks to your design allowing you to develop and change materials accordingly. In fact, here is a good selection of the best 3D printers for small businesses in the market today.

A Brief History of 3D Printing

Serious consideration in regards to the viability of 3D printing first emerged in the 1980s when Japanese inventor Hideo Kodama was given a patent for a 3D printer. He based it on the model of additive manufacturing to create models and prototypes. But the idea of using additive manufacturing technologies for producing 3D models was being considered by scientists since the 1940s. Previously called rapid prototyping it was designed to allow for fast fabrication of physical parts, models, or assembly using 3D Computer-Aided Design (CAD). Today the technology has permeated into literally all industries and continues to drive innovation.

What is 3D Printing Used For?

3D printing is prevalent in multiple industries today, from aviation to education and fashion to food. Here are some of the main sectors that have taken up 3D printing.

Education

Schools and universities are now incorporating 3D printing methods into their curriculum. This is because the process helps students to create prototypes without the need for expensive tooling and equipment. With it, students can easily design and produce models by significantly eliminating the gap from ideas and images on a screen to a physical three-dimensional object.

Students learn about a variety of 3D printing applications by exploring design, engineering, and architectural principles. They can also duplicate items like models, fossils, easily design construction models, study cross-sections of organs, make 3D models of molecules and chemical compounds, and more.

The Aviation Industry

For the aviation industry, 3D printing is helping to deliver manufacturing and prototyping solutions The aviation industry is using 3D printing to make airplane panel parts, parts of aircraft engines, 3D jet engine models, and produce complex components in a single piece. This in return is helping to simplify assembly while maintaining quality standards. It also saves costs through the optimal use of materials, and producing components on-demand thus cutting storage costs. Similarly, it is reducing tooling costs and waste.

Automotive

The automotive industry has been using 3D printing for quite some time. With it, companies are printing spare parts, tools, fixtures and experimenting with prototypes of new model cars. On the last point, 3D printing has significantly reduced the research and development as well as the design and production stages in car manufacturing.

Architectural

In the architecture and construction industry 3D printing is being used to produce detailed models of buildings. This allows architects to easily modify 3D structures and test different market potential with faster and more affordable prototyping. It helps them to quickly produce sophisticated scale models of buildings, bridges, and other architectural structures.

Medical

The medical field has also benefited from 3D printing and is helping to bring in innovations in treatment, training, and research. Today 3D printing is being used to make customized prosthetics, dentures, implants, hearing aids, and more. Surgeons utilize exact replica 3D-printed models to practice complex surgeries or transplants.

There is optimism that with 3 D bioprinting scientists may in the near future be able to actually print tissues for possibly making body parts using donor DNA to prevent transplant patients from rejecting organs. Already 3D printed tissue engineering applications have been developed for effective drug trial testing.

Jewelry

When it comes to making jewelry 3D printers allow you to experiment with designs not possible with traditional jewelry-making methods. There are two ways of producing jewelry with a 3D printer. One you can create an object straight from the 3D design or use 3D to create a mold for casting your jewelry. The technology also comes in handy for prototyping designs as well.

Robotics

Many robotics companies have already started using 3D printing in the designs of their robots because the technology offers smart manufacturing through the flexibility and customization that 3D printing creates. With it, rapid prototyping is made possible thus enabling quick refining designs based on testing and trial. This is great news as it helps in developing robotics for smart manufacturing requiring precision.

Art

Artists are also capitalizing on the benefits of 3D printing by incorporating 3D models into their work. The technology has helped made sculpting relatively easy by just using sketches or photographs to create amazing sculptures straight from their computer. They are being used to create realistic artistic works such as props, costumes, and reproductions with relative ease.

The Manufacturing Industry

The major draw of 3D printing in manufacturing is that it makes the entire manufacturing process, quick and cost-effective. Manufacturers more than ever can make prototypes quickly, print on demand, therefore, minimize production waste using a technology that is easily accessible. Because of the speed and low costs of 3D printing, product life cycles are reduced by manufacturers to improve and enhance products in shorter amounts of time.

What is the 3D Printing Process?

Simply put 3D printing include additive processes whereby layers of material are built up one over the other to create a 3D object. Types of 3D printing might vary depending on the purpose and material used. But 3D printing processes entail these simple steps:

  1. You can use your PC to digitally design, use a 3D scanner scan to scan 3D objects or select a 3D photo to print.
  2. You will need a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) to convert your image into an STL file so that your 3D printer will print the object. Popular CAD software include Morphi, BlocksCAD, TinkerCAD, and others.
  3. You will need to select the material to use to print your 3D object based on your particular need this could be plastic, ceramic, metal, or other materials.
  4. And finally, you press ‘print’ to let your 3D printer print your object

What is the Best 3D Software?

The popularity of 3D printing across multiple industries today has led to the creation of numerous 3D design programs. Each has its uses for different 3D designs and printing methods. Here’s a selection of the best 3D printing software available today.

Onshape

Onshape comes with CAD, 3D printing workflow, collaboration, analytics, admin tools, and an API with more than 50 engineering applications. It helps design teams collaborate faster and make business decisions with real-time analytics and unprecedented visibility into their company’s design and manufacturing processes. This CAD software is mostly used for modeling advanced robotics, biomedical devices, industrial machinery, agriculture equipment, and consumer products. It comes at a hefty subscription price of $ 1,500 per user for one year.

Rhinoceros

Rhinoceros is a powerful and versatile modeling software for creating 3D designs. You can create, edit, analyze, document, render and animate 3D models with relative ease. Mostly used by architectural designers and interior designers it allows them to visualize the space before construction. You can easily transform hand sketches into 3D visualizations with no limits on complexity, degree, or size beyond those of your hardware when using Rhinoceros. It is available through licensing for $915 per license.

Fusion360

Fusion 360 can be for anyone that produces advanced 3D parts and needs equally advanced software to model it. It is touted to be among the best CAD software suites but it is strongly tied to 3D printing. Fusion 360 comes with a cloud-based 3D modeling, CAD, CAM, CAE, and PCB software platform for product design and manufacturing. It offers a wide selection of applications to design and engineer products suited for design, engineering, electronics, and manufacturing. Payment wise users can opt for the standard $60 per month license fee with no commitment or pay $347 per year.

TinkerCAD

TinkerCAD by Autodesk is a free online 3D modeling and coding software that is designed with beginners in mind. It features an intuitive block-building concept that allows users to develop models from a set of basic shapes. TinkerCAD comes with a library of millions of files that helps users find models that suit their particular project. This simple software interacts with third-party printing services and comes with lesson plans which are ready for use online or in the classroom. It can be used by designers, hobbyists, teachers, or kids to make toys, prototypes, home décor, Minecraft models, jewelry, and more.

Solidworks

Solidworks CAD software offers a set of editing tools for manufacturing, assemblies, simulation, and 3D printing. It sways towards the industrial side of 3D printing. Through parametric design, it helps to clarify the relationship between design intent and design response. A key feature is that it allows attributes that are interlinked and can automatically change their feature when one attribute is changed. This modeling process enables users to create 3D models for high-performance parts and assemblies. Often used by professional 3D designers it comes in three tiers Standard, Professional, and Premium.

3D Printing Technologies for the Best 3D Printed Designs

Once you’ve created your design, it’s time to print! You’ll find a huge variety of 3D manufacturing methods to choose from. The method you choose will depend on what material you’d like to print on and what industry the product is being designed for. Here are some of the leading examples of 3D printing methods and their uses.

Fused deposition modeling (FDM) 

Considered among the best-known form of additive manufacturing it works by pushing a filament of solid plastic or other materials into a hot-end that then extrudes a thin stream of molten material in layers to build up the desired 3D piece. Here the print head’s movement is controlled one layer at a time to define the printed shape.

This process is used for prototyping and rapid manufacturing in industries like automotive, manufacturing, medicine, and aeronautics. It mostly uses plastic material for 3D printing and polymers such as ABS, PolyCarbonate (PC), Polylactic acid (PLA), Polyethylene terephthalate (PETG) and others.

Stereolithography (SLA)

Stereolithography (SLA) or resin printing is a form of 3D printing layer by layer using liquid plastic resin that is hardened using light to create a chemical reaction for it to form hardened plastic. It can be used to create prototypes , models, components and computer hardware.

This process helps create fine features and smooth surface finishes. Its application includes manufacturing, printing custom tools, molds, jewelry, medicine as well as many other applications. Though stereolithography is fast and can produce almost any design, it can however be expensive.

Material jetting (Polyjet)

This process works in a similar manner to inkjet printing but rather than laying down ink on a page, it deposits layers of liquid material from one or more print heads. It helps produce highly accurate, full-color visual prototypes. Its applications can be used in teaching, automotive, medicine,  making molds and casting patterns.

Even though it is a precision process, it is one of the most expensive 3D printing methods with parts not being sturdy and degrading over time. This process allows for the creation of electronic devices as well.

Selective Laser Melting and Selective Laser Sintering (SLM/SLS)

Selective Laser Melting ( SLM) technique uses a high power-density laser to melt and fuse metallic powders together. It mostly uses a variety of metals including titanium, copper, nickel, aluminum and cobalt for industries such as medical, automotive, aeronautics, and even jewelry.

In this process you can produce parts with excellent physical properties that are often stronger than the conventional metal and good surface finishes. This comes in handy in prototyping and tooling as well.

Binder Jetting

Binder jetting process entails depositing a thin layer of powdered material such as a metal, polymer resin or ceramic, onto the build platform. It then drops adhesive which is deposited by a print head to bind the particles together. Binder Jetting is used in various applications, including the creation of full-color prototypes, molds, and low-cost 3D printed metal parts.

The common materials used in this process are ceramic and metals. It can also be used in industrial applications, dental and medical devices, aerospace, part casting, and more.

Fused filament fabrication (FFF)

Fused filament fabrication (FFF), is a 3D printing process that uses a continuous filament of a thermoplastic material. The filament is fed from a large spool through a moving, heated printer extruder head, and is deposited on the growing work. This process is used in applications that include prototyping and rapid manufacturing in aerospace, medicine, machine design, and even food.

This process helps fuse a large selection of materials, including thermoplastics, wood and metal-infused thermoplastics, and even food. This is considered among the least expensive 3D printer technology as it uses inexpensive materials. It is also easy to switch materials and lets you print using multiple different materials with a fast printing process.

Electronic beam melting (EBM)

In Electron Beam Melting (EBM) the raw metal powder or wire material is placed under a vacuum and fused together from heating generated by an electron beam. The hot process helps to produce parts with no residual stress and the vacuum ensures a clean and controlled environment

This technique results in the creation of high-density products as it utilizes the entire metal powder. As a result, it is predominantly used in the medical, aeronautics, and automotive industries.

Digital Light Processing (DLP)

Digital Light Processing (DLP ) is similar to stereolithography in that it works with photopolymers. The major difference is the light source. The DLP technology uses a more conventional light source, such as an arc lamp with a liquid crystal display panel. This is then applied to the entire surface of the vat of photopolymer resin in a single pass, generally making it faster than stereolithography. As a result, it produces highly accurate 3D printed parts with excellent resolution that are ideal for prototype production.

The Future of 3D Printing

3D printing is literally changing manufacturing for good. It offers quick and affordable solutions for both prototyping as well as manufacturing. It has democratized the manufacturing process where once specializations and tooling were a prerequisite for industrial success. And 3D printing is now fast closing the gap. The applications of 3D printing business ideas continue to crop up spanning across industries. And with 3D printing technologies continuously improving, don’t be surprised if in the not too distant future 3D printers will be common items in our homes and offices.

What is 3D printing in simple words?

Simply put 3D printing is a way of creating three-dimensional solid objects. The 3D object is created by building it up layer by layer using a specially designed 3D printer. You can use different materials to print 3D objects that include plastics, metals, ceramics, and even foodstuffs.

What are the differences between 3D printing and traditional manufacturing?

Traditional manufacturing requires skilled labor, extra materials such as molds for injection ­molding, tooling, and more to produce limited and specialized objects. 3D printing on the other hand only requires CAD software, a PC, a 3D printer, and printing material to produce an eco-friendly 3D object in a significantly short amount of time.

What is the main use of 3D printing?

3D printing offers huge opportunities for businesses to enable easy prototyping. It also gives them the ability to create designs that are way too difficult to produce with other methods as well as build high-quality products.

Image: Depositphotos

This article, "What is 3D Printing?" was first published on Small Business Trends



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