You might have heard a lot of talk about how 3D printing is going to change the world. From manufacturing to architecture and design, 3D printing has generated buzz in recent years, but what is 3D printing, exactly? How does 3D printing work? There is no shame in not knowing the exact answers to these questions, but our guide should shed some light on what the process actually entails, and some of the specific ways it should help the human race.
What is 3D Printing?
3D printing is a machine that can replace a whole factory production line. A good analogy is to think of how home printers replaced the whole printing press, with its drying rack, bottles of ink, and complex systems.
A digital 3D-model is created, usually on a computer, and because the printer can understand all of the dimensions, it can print layer upon layer to create physical 3D objects.
Technically, even printing words is “3D”. Look closely at the paper, and the printing is raised from the surface. 3D printing is just using layers to build upon that.
A 3D printer can use multiple materials and understand designs in a 3D field, rather than 2D. The industry has generated a lot of excitement. The basic things that can be made, such as plastic toys or tools or even metal machinery, are not as exciting as the prospect of being able to one-day 3D print body parts!
How Does 3D Printing Work?
The process of 3D printing begins by creating a design of a 3D object. Let’s take a ceramic cup as an example. You would design the dimensions, set the materials, and then create a layered approach to printing out the item in question. It would start with layers for the base, and which might gradually get wider if the cup has a curvature. By building up layer by layer, you can create something that is solid.
A cup isn’t really the most exciting aspect when someone asks “how does 3D printing work?” The more exciting elements of 3D printing come into play when you think about the further prospects for its use, and how much quicker this can make the world of manufacturing or even construction.
In the modern age, you can upload a file and get a quote for 3D printing online. A design you have made can come to life with the help of a 3D printer.
A cup might not be exciting, but what about something like a bicycle or a piece of kitchen equipment? Because a 3D printer can understand dimensions and has the capability of making really complex designs including hinges or even wheels, there are very few limitations to what you can print. The process is quicker, more efficient, and means that production lines can be done away with.
Obviously, there is software involved in the process, and people specialize in creating these 3D designs. An STL file is the format that is used by 3D printers. It is standardized to make things easier. CAD software, the design industry standard for manufacturing, can communicate with 3D printers using this software.
The 3D printer is then able to turn the STL file into a physical object. Each 3D printer works slightly differently in terms of the raw materials. They require polymers and binders, as well as some other raw consumables.
As long as the machine is calibrated properly, a 3D printer will then get to work on turning the design into a physical object, sometimes taking just minutes to do so. Obviously, more complicated designs take longer to turn into finished objects.
Think of it this way; if you were working on a new product and wanted to test out a new part or a model, instead of it taking weeks, or even months, to get the part exactly right, made and shipped to you, you might be able to design and print it within hours. Think of the implications for industries around the world.
This sort of technology is not reserved exclusively for those who work in the design or manufacturing industry. Anyone can get an account on Google’s SketchUp, and this software makes it easy to draw edges and create 3D designs with relatively easy controls. You can also import and mess around with pre-made designs. This gives you a chance to see what 3D printing can look like, or at least how the design aspect works.
Limitations of 3D Printing
In terms of being available to your “Average Joe,” there are some limits, 3D printers are quite expensive, and the materials can be, too. On top of this, calibration is quite a difficult process and one which requires a professional approach.
In terms of what the printer can make, whether it be parts for vehicles or even 3D models for medical usage, there are very few limitations in place.
Where is 3D Printing Headed?
What is the future of 3D printing? A lot of this is speculation, but the signs are promising, and many experts predict that 3D printing will be essential for all kinds of different manufacturing and construction applications.
Along with asking “what is 3D printing?” people are asking what it can do for them. Exciting developments are always afoot. The world’s biggest 3D printer has managed to print a 25-foot boat! In the future, large 3D printers could be used to create accommodation and shelter in areas where it didn’t exist before, medical supplies, even new artificial limbs or body parts. The automotive and aerospace industries are already making use of 3D printing, and experts predict this becoming more and more commonplace in the coming years.
ING has predicted that 3D printing could account for half of all manufactured parts and products by 2060, reducing the need for global trade and transport by 25%.
3D printing hasn’t reached anything like its full potential yet and hasn’t really hit the consumer market, but it is one of the most exciting 21st-century technological advancements, and you should expect it to form a huge part of everyday life (and the items we use) in the near to mid-term future.