3D Printing: How Does it Work and is it the Future for Printing?

A model in a 3D PrinterA model in a 3D Printer

Previously if you were looking to get a prototype made up or perhaps just build something for yourself then it would take quite a lot of time, different materials and cost to build. Businesses, think tanks and committees often have to create small scale single moulds then put together several different components, and build items from different pieces. The process can involve many different materials, a wide variety of highly trained workers, and several expensive trials before the perfect object is finally created.

However, the introduction of super-fast prototyping and 3D printing remove some of the above issues from the process of creating new commercial and industrial objects. Instead of needing a factory to create a sample for testing, self-contained printers create items from 3D CAD drawings. These items are printed layer after layer, one at a time, meaning more creativity and control over the finished design than traditional methods of construction. 3D printing is also faster, cutting the creation process down from days or weeks to mere hours for most item and therefore reducing the cost of production.

A model in a 3D Printer

How Does 3-D Printing Work?

The basic concept behind all 3D printing is the same. 3D CAD drawings are sliced into very thin layers. Each layer represents a single layer of the constructed object. Different printers use different materials and different binding processes, but generally a powder of ceramic, nylon, or even metal is used as the base material and fused together into the pattern for the layer currently being created. After the completion of a layer, the machine moves on to the next layer until it is completed.

For example, ordinary desktop printers lay down a full layer of a composite powder then use an inkjet printer to print the binding agent and any colour dyes onto the powder. The powder treated with binding agent solidifies, the rest of the powder remains loose. Two to four layers are printed per minute and the excess powder just falls off and can be reused in the next print job.

Larger more industrial printers use a slightly different approach. Powder is applied to a roller and a halogen lamp etches the pattern for a single layer onto this coating. When the layer is complete, it’s rolled off into a build area, the roller is cleaned, and the process begins again for the next layer. Layers are joined in the build area using heat and pressure.

A roller 3D Process

The Future of 3D Printing

3D Printing is moving in a few different directions currently and it looks like it will continue to expand in a huge variety of areas in the future. Some of the most promising areas are medical uses, building new parts for things and specialised customer products. As materials improve and costs decrease, other uses will inevitably be found for 3D printing.

It’s thought that the greatest area of potential use for 3D printing is in the medical industry. As previously mentioned, futurists are just starting to experiment with the idea of creating artificial bones and limbs with 3D printing, but the process could potentially be utilised for much more in depth medical research. Some companies are looking at the idea of printing organic material, these materials could be used in a huge range of hospitals and potentially be used to replace a much larger selection of defective human parts. Another area of growth in the 3D printing circle is the replacement production parts. Maybe you need a new handle for your door or fancy a new item of furniture? Instead of trying to find the exact part you want then have to pay for it to be posted which might take weeks especially if it is a very niche part you will be simply able to print it out and then get on with whatever you needed it for. Professions like mechanics would be able to have access to every part for every car ever made and have no waiting time to get hold of specific parts for their customers. These are just a few examples of how 3D printing might be used in the future and it is obvious that 3D printing has series benefits in the future.

A 3D Printer Object

Only time will tell exactly how useful 3D printing will be as well as the quality of the parts produced by 3D printers but it is certainly an interesting industry to keep an eye on.


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