The possibility of printing three-dimensional solid objects is something long expected not only by those who are not very skilled in the use of the chisel and the hammer, but it is a technology sought for years by various manufacturers and researchers who tried to implement a method that allows the construction of the more varied objects such as medical implants, pieces of architecture and other elements in a simple and cheap way. Fortunately, they have found it in 3D printing.
3d printing is the beginning of how things will commonly be done in the future. The 3D printing to which we refer goes far beyond a simple dimensional artistic talent placed on canvas and paper. It is no longer limited to what we commonly know as art. The idea of printing or doing things in 3D does not have much to do with the idea of a photo of an object to which ink is applied on a paper but with the construction of the object through digital increments to obtain an element tangible to be used later.
What is 3D printing and how is 3D printing helpful?
3D printing is a technology that with the help of a physical 3D printer, can transform designs crafted by computer into figures with volume. With volume here, we mean that the figures printed in a 3D printer have width, length and height.
Today’s 3D printing is a reality that has already escaped from the testing laboratories, and although they have not yet reached the status of presence held by inkjet or laser printers. However, the field of 3D printing extends far beyond this, as we can also find implementations of 3D printing technology in areas such as automotive industry, robotics industry, medical devices and industrial industry, in the construction of prototypes. This means significant savings due to the reduction in modeling times and materials.
Read More: The Future of Additive Manufacturing
Also, in the engineering and the aerospace sector 3D printers find a place in the production of pieces, since they could also be used for the elaboration of elements in space.
What is a 3D printer and how does it work?
To understand what a 3D printer is, we have to think of a device that is capable of generating three-dimensional solid physical bodies by layer-by-layer addition of material. To be precise, it allows you to create, without the need to use any type of mold, an object that we can then take in our hands.
The most important difference that we can find between the traditional forms of construction of objects and 3D printing is that while in the first method the object to be modeled is obtained by removing the remaining material, in 3D printing only the material to be used is strictly used, which enhances savings, in addition to less pollution.
But how do these 3D printers fulfill their work? In the first instance, we will need a file created with some 3D modeling software such as Autodesk Inventor, Solidworks, or Catia to “tell” the 3D printer what to model. These files contain precise instructions about the coordinates that must be followed to create the object and are usually introduced to the printer through USB through a flash drive or memory, but also there are models of 3D printers that allow their direct connection to the PC.
It should be noted concerning software that in the Open Source world there are also very ductile alternatives that can handle this type of printers without any difficulty and at zero cost, which will come very well to small businesses and SMEs. In this sense, the Open Source applications that stand out in this matter are OpenSCAD and FreeCAD.
The desired object is then created with molten raw material applied in small doses
As small points set in row one after another, until an entire level has been completed. Then the 3D printer begins a second layer followed by a third, a fourth and so on until the desired object that was previously seen on the computer screen appears.
Remember, it’s not really an immediate process that happens in a few seconds. The raw material usually used with 3D printing is heated just a few seconds before releasing and should be given adequate time to cool and then set to avoid inaccuracies due to the flaccidity of the material. As you may have guessed by now, stacking melted material too fast can cause a distortion of the product when it is finished.
What is the different type of 3D printers and what materials are used in 3D printing?
At present, 3D printing technologies are varied, and apparently, it will not be possible to achieve a standard, at least in the coming years. This is due to the youth of 3D printing, which encourages each manufacturer to develop its own technology and try to impose it on the industry.
However, understanding this point is not a very complicated task, since the main difference between 3D printing technologies today is given by how the printer deposits the different layers of material to create the piece.
In this sense, the main technologies in use are the Fusion Deposition Modeling (FDM) or plastic material deposition technology, which is a method that allows the modeling of parts in ABS or PLA plastics. This modeling is done by feeding the printer with a roll of this material, which, when passing through the extruder of the equipment, is heated, melted and deposited layer by layer forming the object. After that, wait until the material cools and can be manipulated. It should be noted that this method is the most used in the field of domestic 3D printers.
Other technologies currently in use are Stereolithography (SLA) and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), both operate with the help of a laser beam. The first one molds the object layer by layer but involves the use of a photocurable resin bath. In this case, the molded object with liquid resin is cured by the ultraviolet light laser.
Regarding the technology known as Selective Laser Sintering or Laser Selective Sintering, it is similar to the SLA, but for the molding it can use different inputs in powder such as metallic and ceramic materials, nylon, polystyrene and glass, among others. In this case, the laser melts the material and solidifies it. It should be noted that both technologies are highly appreciated thanks to their precision. 3D printing can be a serious candidate for the replacement of injection molding commonly used in the manufacture of products today. This process could be closely related to injection molding. Other manufacturing methods, for example, creating objects from blocks of raw material, can become a waste of material to compete with 3D printing.
However, the cost of this type of 3D printers is usually high, which makes it practically impossible to acquire any of them to be used outside the industrial scope. In addition, the costs associated with it, such as the energy needed to supply the equipment and the inputs for the modeling of parts, are also high.
What are the benefits and limitations of 3d printing?
As discussed above, 3D printers are in constant development, which brings a unique set of advantages but also lags behind traditional manufacturing in some aspects. Therefore, it can be said that the use of 3D printing has many benefits, such as limitations. You must have a concrete and detailed knowledge of the pros and cons of all 3D printing technologies available today, that way you can get to understand where 3D equipment is today, and where they are going in the near future.
The benefits of 3D printing are:
#1 Great reduction in initial costs: When manufacturing a product, each piece requires a unique mould, and custom tools have a very high price. However, since 3D printing does not need special tools, the cost of a 3D printed piece depends entirely on the type of material, the amount of material used, the time machines take to print it and the subsequent processing.
#2 Geometric complexity without additional cost: 3D technology allows easy fabrication of complex shapes, many of which cannot be produced by any other manufacturing method. The additive nature of technology means that geometric complexity does not have a higher price.
#3 Personalization of each piece: With traditional manufacturing, it is simply cheaper to manufacture and sell identical products to the consumer. 3D printing allows easy customization since the initial costs are so low that every item can be customized to meet the specific needs of a user without affecting manufacturing costs.
Limitations that 3D printing involves:
#1 Low resistance and properties of anisotropic material: In general, the physical properties of 3D printed parts are not as good, since they are built layer by layer, are weaker and brittle. Because of this, plastic parts printed in 3D are used more frequently for non-critical functional applications. However, DMLS and SLM can produce 3D printed metal parts with excellent mechanical properties. For this reason, they have found applications in the most demanding industries, such as the aerospace industry.
#2 Less competitive costs at higher volumes: 3D printing cannot compete with traditional manufacturing processes when dealing with large quantities of production. The lack of a custom tool or mold means that the initial costs are low. However, it also means that the unit price decreases very little in higher quantities, so large-scale savings may not be possible.
#3 Accuracy and limited tolerances: The accuracy of 3D printed parts depends on the process and the calibration of the machine. Generally, the pieces printed on a desktop 3D printer have the least accuracy. Other 3D printing processes offer greater accuracy; However, it is essential to keep in mind that these results can only be achieved after optimization for specific features in a well-designed part.
They call it the future, but 3D printing is here and now.
The 3D printing process may have limits, but there is no doubt that the benefits it provides surpass any expectations that were held for 3D technology years ago. The latest advances in 3D printing have allowed the use of metals and other materials that have opened a greater potential for use by commercial and industrial applications. The Industrial forecast in the world of manufacturing has put a great emphasis on 3D printing becoming the way to the future.
The progression of 3D printing technology has made it easier and much more affordable for all. Even schools and libraries have been buying 3D printers for educational purposes.
Also, a 3D printer can be extremely useful for hobbies, workshops and technical services and other activities that require having a method like this available, since using a 3D printer could print many spare parts and elements that are no longer in place or that do not directly exist.
While the operation of a 3D printer seems simple, the technology behind these devices is really complex, as to ensure that the parts that we send to print on these machines are reflected in the exact way they are defined in the file, sophisticated mechanical and electronic systems are used.
However, fortunately, the user does not have to understand at all the functioning of a 3D printer, all he has to do is make sure that the printer has loaded the print material, in this case, the plastic, and send to print the piece. For this simplicity, practicality and ease of use, 3D printers are being used more and more in many areas, not only in industry or research but also in the home, where the user can take advantage of their ability to print 3D parts customized to your own needs.