3D printing/additive manufacturing is where three-dimensional models are constructed from digital files prepared in 3D modelling software. Currently, this technology isn’t restricted to one technology like it was when it was first created, rather it now covers a variety of technologies that involves layer-by-layer fabrication.
3D printing is not a new invention, though it only gained popularity in recent years. But it has been known for a long time in the industry. This technology began as a method of prototyping for large industries, but later on, manufacturers began creating budget-friendly 3D printers meant for hobbyists and small businesses.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ADDITIVE AND SUBTRACTIVE MANUFACTURING
Though both additive and subtractive manufacturing processes are used hand-in-hand due to their overlapping range of applications, they differ. Additive manufacturing creates objects by adding materials layer-by-layer. Subtractive manufacturing, on the other hand, creates parts by removing materials.
Subtractive manufacturing begins with metals, solid blocks, or other materials that can be shaped by drilling, cutting, boring, or grinding. These processes can be performed by CNC machines or manually. This process is usually used to create parts in metals or plastic meant for prototyping, end-user parts, as well as manufacturing tooling. Processes used in subtractive manufacturing includes laser cutting, water jet cutting, and electric discharge machining.
Additive manufacturing, on the other hand, adds materials layer by layer, and each successful layer is bonded to the preceding later till the parts of the design are completed. The 3D printer deposits the materials, then it’s melted, and the powder is then fused. The parts 3D printed usually requires some finishing and cleaning in order to achieve the final products. It’s applied in manufacturing industries, engineering, prototyping, and also the production of complex products that are hard to achieve in other manufacturing processes.
PROCESS OF 3D PRINTING
The process of 3D printing usually depends on the technology being used. The Fused Deposition Modeling process is the most popular technology that creates parts by heating the material and creating layers of the material. Another technology that is much used is Laser sintering. This technology uses lasers or projectors to fuse plastic and metal powder.
3D printing usually begins with the design of a 3D model by the use of a 3D modeling software. There are various types of 3D modelling software that are used in the creation of 3D models, each of them meant for a specific niche.
Above: Tutorial on 3D printing in SelfCAD/Video Credit: SelfCAD/YouTube
Besides designing 3D models, there are other ways you can get models that you can customize and even 3D print. A good example is Thingiverse, Myminifactory, Cults3D, etc. Once you download them, you can import them to programs like SelfCAD then slice them. You can also hire a 3D designer to help you design your model.
After you’ve got your 3D model, you now need to slice them. Slicing is the process of splitting the model into layers that the 3D printer will be able to print. The purpose of slicing a 3D model is to generate the G-Code, which contains the instructions for the 3D printer. The G-Code has instructions relating to where the 3D printer should begin from, where to move to, and also where to conclude the 3D printing process.
The next step in the process is to upload the G-Code file into the 3D printer for actual production.
3D PRINTING TECHNOLOGIES
There are a good number of 3D printing technologies available. Let’s have a look at some of the most common ones.
Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) / Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)
FDM/FFF is the most popular and widely used 3D printing technology. It uses a solid material in filament form that is heated to a liquid form and deposited onto the build platform in a layer-by-layer process to form the complete object.
Digital Light Processing (DLP)
DLP is a 3D printing technology that uses light to solidify the model. The conventional light source is usually controlled by mirrors when it’s moved across the resin.
SLA uses liquid thermoset polymers to create solid objects. The liquid is placed on the vat and laser traces the geometric pattern as defined by the G-Codes. The laser cures or hardens the liquid material wherever it flashes and thus the object is built layer by layer.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
SLS is a powder-bed fusion 3D printing technology. It uses powdered polymer material. A roller is used to place layers on top of each other and then a laser is used to solidify the powder.
Selective Laser Melting (SLM)
SLM is almost similar to SLS but they only differ when it comes to the type of material being used. SLS uses powdered polymer material while SLM uses powdered metal materials.
Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM)
In this technology, the materials being used are coated with adhesives that have been fused with layers of materials. The materials are fused using heat and pressure and a laser is then used to cut the final product.
REVOLUTION OF 3D PRINTING
As mentioned in the introduction of this article, 3D printing isn’t a new technology despite its popularity in recent years. In the past 3D printing wasn’t very popular. It was only used for prototyping purposes. 3D printing name wasn’t existing, rather, it used to be called rapid prototyping and it was only restricted to only engineers.
But as technology continued to advance, many people showed an interest in 3D printing. Prices of 3D printers become affordable and easy to use 3D modelling software continues to be developed. Hence everyone can now get started in 3D printing with ease.
MASS PRODUCTION USING 3D PRINTING
It will take long before additive manufacturing replaces the traditional method of manufacturing. However, 3D printing is helping companies to bypass certain issues in traditional manufacturing. For example, 3D printing allows companies to work on geometries that were previously hard or impossible to work on in traditional means.
Many companies are investing in buying large and powerful 3D printers that can make it easier to 3D print large volumes of 3D prints. And we believe, in the near future, more advances are going to be made in this field, and even if it won’t completely replace the traditional method of manufacturing but it will solve issues that come along with 3D printing complex designs.
USES OF 3D PRINTING
1. Professional Use
It’s used in creating prototypes. 3D printing is flexible in terms of speed and it reduces the costs that companies could have used in prototyping and testing.
2. Entertainment Industry
3D modelling software is used in creating 3D models for movies and films, TV shows as well as games. Artists no longer have to spend many hours manually designing the designs.
3D printing is used in creating various healthcare designs like prosthetics based on the patients’ requirements. It’s also used in printing organs like the heart by the use of the human cells and this helps in avoiding transplant rejection and patients don’t have to wait for people to donate organs.
4. Automotive industry
The creation of customized parts is easier and this helps reduce cost and time. It’s also the most efficient method of getting parts that cannot be found in the shops unless imported.
It allows engineers, scientists, and designers to test ideas in real life. Also, introducing 3D printing to students when they are still learning makes them be familiar with the technology that they will later use in their careers.
(NOTE: This was originally posted on SelfCAD and readers can read it HERE)
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