From the moment it made its debut, 3D printing has been one of the more futuristic technologies around. We can literally print objects out of thin air using materials that are strong, lightweight, and durable. The process has been adopted by everyone from major manufacturers to at-home craftspeople.
But what is 3D printing, and how does it work? Read on to learn more about this amazing technology and the different materials it uses to revolutionize our world.
What Is 3D Printing?
3D printing is an amazing technology that allows us to turn long, thin strands of filament into three-dimensional printed objects. It has revolutionized the manufacturing world, since we can now produce plastic parts that are exactly identical without using molds or stamps. Home crafters can also use this amazing technology to bring intricate designs to life in ways they never could before.
A 3D printer works by laying down thin layers of filament in pre-determined patterns to build an object. It may use webs, honeycombs, or other internal structures to improve the stability of the thing it’s building. You can 3D print items made of plastic, metal, composites, and more.
The first step in 3D printing an object is creating a computer aided design (CAD) model of that object. The computer will use this model to send instructions to the 3D printer for where to lay down filament. You can also reverse-engineer CAD models by taking a 3D scan of an existing object and converting it into the proper format.
Let’s say, for instance, that you wanted to 3D print a dice rolling tower to use during your family game nights. You would have to start with a model of the outside of the tower, including any decorations or embellishments you wanted to include. Then you would need to design the inside of the tower, including the plates that will help to roll your dice and funnel them down towards the base and the opening.
Once you have your 3D model, you’ll need to run it through slicing software to prepare it for 3D printing. As we mentioned, a 3D printer operates by laying down thin layers of filament that get melted together to form one cohesive object. Your 3D printer will need to know how to lay down those layers to create the object you’ve made a model of.
Slicing software converts your design into horizontal slices that your 3D printer can use as a template to lay down filament. You can control several factors in today’s slicing software, including speed, temperature, layer height, and so on. Many of these programs also double as interfaces to operate your 3D printer and include remote project monitoring and job queue options.
The Print Itself
After your model gets properly sliced, you’ll be ready to launch your actual 3D print job. You may need to do some work in your slicing software to properly position your object on the printing pad. This is especially important if you want to print several things at once, but you don’t want them to meld together into one massive blob.
Once your print is arranged, you can push the button on your printer, sit back, and watch the magic. Your computer will send the sliced and arranged file to your 3D printer, which will start laying down filament in the specified pattern. Once all the layers have been printed, your object will be done and ready for you to finish or use!
Fused Deposition Modeling
There are a few different technologies that may be used in 3D printing, one of which is fused deposition modeling (FDM). This approach uses extrusion to melt and pull filament into the shapes you want for your 3D print layers. If often uses a thermoplastic polymer filament that is easy to melt and mold.
Your FDM 3D printer will pull filament down to the print head, which heats it up to its melting point. Then the print head moves in the pattern you’ve specified, laying the melted plastic down either on the print pad or on the layer below it. The melted plastic fuses with the layer below it and then cools to create a unified, solid form.
Stereolithography, better known as SLA, is the oldest form of 3D printing to be commercialized. Unlike FDM printing, SLA printing uses a liquid material that it then hardens into the shape you want using a laser. There’s a similar printing technique called digital light processing (DLP) that uses UV lights instead of lasers.
The material you load into an SLA printer is already liquid, and it’s liquid when it comes out of the print head and gets laid down on the print pad. The trick is that this material is a photosensitive resin that hardens when it’s exposed to a laser. The print head contains a laser that moves behind the piece laying down resin, hardening it and fusing it with the material that’s already there.
Selective Laser Sintering
Selective laser sintering (SLS) is one of the more fascinating approaches to 3D printing. It’s something of a fusion between fused deposition modeling and stereolithography, using both material that doesn’t need to be melted and yet isn’t liquid. Instead, SLS printers use powdered polymer materials which then get fused into one solid piece.
As the SLS print head moves, it lays down a line of the powdered material you loaded into the printer. This type of printer also has a laser attached to the print head, which it uses to melt, or sinter, the powder together. There are several other types of 3D printing technology that use similar approaches as the SLS printers do.
There are also several different 3D printer filament types that you can use. One of the most popular options is polymers, and it’s easy to understand why. Polymer plastics are affordable, easy to melt, relatively durable, lightweight, and available in a rainbow of vibrant colors.
There are three different types of polymer filaments that are most commonly used in 3D printing: PLA, ABS, and nylon. Nylon is strong and heat resistant, making it a great choice for manufacturing facilities. Polylactic acid (PLA) is popular among FDM printers and is biodegradable, and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) creates a durable, clean surface that’s perfect for injection-molded products.
There are also a variety of composites that can be used in 3D printing. Nylon 6 carbon fiber has the amazing lightweight strength as any other carbon fiber material. However, it is also able to withstand higher temperatures than other 3D printing materials; in some cases, its heat rating is 100 degrees Celsius higher than other materials.
It will come as no surprise that nylon 12 carbon fiber is a very similar material to its nylon 6 cousin. It has the lightweight strength, although it does generally tend to have a somewhat lower heat rating. However, this material is much less absorbent, which can give finished prints a cleaner, more polished look.
In some cases, you may need to print an object that doesn’t have one defined base that your print could sit on. Instead, you may need to include some supports that your object can be printed on and that you can remove later. There are some specialized materials you may want to use for these supports.
Polyvinyl alcohol, or PVA, is a one of the best 3D printer filament types for supports because it’s water-soluble. After you finish your print, you can drop the whole thing in a tub of water and let the supports just melt away. You may also want to use SR-30, which is a little more compatible with ABS and other high-temp materials.
What You Can Do with 3D Printing
There are almost no limits to the number of things you can do with 3D printing. The technology is becoming more popular in the manufacturing world, which needs to be able to create thousands of the same item over and over for very little cost. It has even allowed for on-demand manufacturing, which doesn’t create a product until a customer orders one.
3D printing can also be used to create custom solutions for various problems. Many craftspeople use 3D printers to manufacture jigs for particular jobs they’re working on or create custom pieces for their tools. And, of course, many home 3D printers use their machines to make personalized products for themselves and their loved ones.
Learn More About 3D Printing
3D printing is one of the more amazing technologies available to makers today. From large-scale manufacturers to at-home creators, people are finding new and better ways to make objects with 3D printing. Whether you’re printing PETG or working with nylon 12 carbon fiber, the only limit to what you can make is your imagination.
If you’d like to learn more about 3D printing and find the best PLA filament on the market, check out the rest of our site at 3DF Filaments.