3D printing is a technology that creates three-dimensional objects by depositing materials layer by layer according to a digital file. The process is also called additive manufacturing because it builds up an object by adding material rather than starting with a piece of material and removing what isn’t needed, as in traditional machining.
3D printing has been around for more than 30 years, but it’s only recently that the technology has become widely available and affordable for consumers. In the past, 3D printers were large and expensive, and they were mostly used by manufacturers to create prototypes or parts for products. But now there are many different types of 3D printers available, from simple desktop printers to industrial-grade machines, and the price of 3D printers has come down dramatically.
3D printing is being used in many different industries, from aerospace to jewelry to healthcare. And it’s not just for businesses—more and more people are using 3D printers at home to make everything from toys to replacement parts for household appliances.
3D printing is the opposite of subtractive manufacturing which is the traditional way of making things. In subtractive manufacturing, you start with a chunk of material and then you cut away at it to create the desired shape. With 3D printing, there is no waste because you are only using the amount of material that you need to create the object layer by layer.
3D printing is done with a variety of different materials including metals, plastics, and composites. Printers that print in metal are usually very expensive while plastic printers are more affordable and are suitable for home use.
How does 3D printing work?
A 3D printer uses computer-aided design (CAD) files to create three-dimensional objects layer by layer. The CAD file is created using a CAD software program or imported from another source such as a 3D scanner or online marketplace.
Once the file is ready, the printer reads the file and creates the object by depositing materials one layer at a time according to the instructions in the file. The materials can be anything from plastics and metals to ceramics and concrete—and even food!
The type of printer and the materials you use will determine how long it takes to print an object. Simple objects can be printed in minutes, while more complex objects can take hours or even days.
3D printer types
There are a few different types of 3D printers but all use Additive Manufacturing processes. Some common 3D printing processes include Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Stereolithography (SLA), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS).
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the most common type of 3D printing technology and it works with both thermoplastics and composites. FDM printers heat up the filament to its melting point and then deposit it in extremely thin layers onto the build platform. The advantage of FDM is that it’s relatively inexpensive and it can print in a wide variety of materials.
Stereolithography (SLA) is also one of the most common 3D printing processes. It works by curing a photopolymer resin with a focused beam of light. The light is projected onto a build platform, where it curing the resin and causing it to solidify. This process is repeated layer by layer until the desired model is complete. SLA printers are popular because they are relatively fast and produce high-quality results. However, they can be quite expensive and require specialized resins that can be difficult to source. Additionally, the build platform must be carefully level in order for the model to print correctly. Nonetheless, stereolithography remains one of the most widely used 3D printing technologies.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) uses lasers to fuse together small particles of powder into a solid mass. It can be used to create objects from nylon, glass, metal, ceramic, and more. SLS printers are generally more expensive than FDM printers because they require more sophisticated equipment.
Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) is similar to SLS except that it uses metals instead of plastics or ceramics. DMLS printers are very expensive and are mostly used by industrial companies for prototyping or small batch production runs.
3D printing is an additive manufacturing process that creates three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file. It’s different from traditional subtractive manufacturing because it doesn’t involve waste since material is only added layer by layer until the desired object is created. 3D printing can be done with metals, plastics, ceramics, glass, and composites using various technologies such as Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), or Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS). The popularity of 3D printing has increased in recent years due to the decreasing costs and increasing accessibility of the technology.
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