The invention of 3D printing or additive manufacturing has revolutionized the manufacturing industry. Companies like Boeing, Invisalign, Google, and GE all use 3D printing as part of their manufacturing process.
But what is the purpose of a 3D printer and how do they work? Those questions and more will be explained if you keep reading this article.
What Is the Purpose of a 3D Printer?
3D printing is a manufacturing process where the material is laid down and layered to form a three-dimensional shape. Additive manufacturing builds objects from scratch. Subtractive manufacturing involves cutting or drilling into a material or subtracting material to create an object.
A PolyJet 3D printer uses a variety of different materials such as plastics and metal. They also share digital files containing plans for the objects with a computer. This allows for 3D scanning of a physical object.
Are 3D Printers Real Printers?
Can you even consider 3D printing as printing? The answer is yes. 3D printing is printing, even if it is not printing in the traditional sense.
How does a 3d printer work? From a technological standpoint, 3D printing comes from traditional printing technology. Ink layers printed onto a sheet of paper is very similar to the process of layering material on top of a material such is the case with 3D printing.
What 3D printing does differently from traditional printing is that it applies multiple layers upon layers of material.
How Do 3D Printers Work?
3D printers use a variety of different technologies. Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is the most common of these technologies. Sometimes, this technology is also called fused filament fabrication (FFF).
This process uses a fiber made of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene or other polymers. These plastics melt and come out in layers through a heated nozzle to form a 3D object.
3D printers became available for purchase in the 1990s. They were originally sold by Stratasys. Most 3D printers are for schools, hobbyists, and consumers.
Another common technology involved in 3D printing is stereolithography. Stereolithography printing uses a UV laser to shine into a tub of ultraviolet-sensitive photopolymer, which traces the object’s shape. The thermoplastic solidifies where the beam touches and forms the object.
Then, the beam prints the object layer by layer using the design from the instruction file it is working from.
Another type of technology used by 3D printing is called a digital light projector (DLP). DLP 3D printing uses a liquid thermoplastic. This plastic is exposed to light by the digital light processing projector.
The light hardens the thermoplastic layer by layer until the object is fully built. The unused polymer is simply drained off at the end of the process.
Multi-jet modeling is very similar to ink-jet printing technology. This system uses a colored, glue-like binder that sprays layer by layer until an object forms. This was the first use of a 3D printer that supported multicolor printing.
People have been able to modify ink-jet printers to work with materials other than ink. This was how one of the first 3D printers were created.
Enterprising DIY-ers have built print heads to work with many different types of materials. In some cases, these entrepreneurs even printed out the print heads themselves from a 3D printer.
The Invention of 3D Printing
The first 3D printer used the stereolithography technique. It was created by Charles W. Hull in the 1980s.
Stereolithography printers are very expensive for commercial applications. These printers could cost five or six figures to purchase.
In recent days, stereolithography has seen advancements in technology. The advent of desktop professional stereolithography printers helped decrease the cost to just a few hundred dollars. A good consumer system will set you back around a few thousand dollars.
Hull founded a company called 3D systems in 1986. This company is still around selling 3D printers and technology today. They have a range of products from entry-level hobby printers to advanced commercial 3D printing systems.
Benefits of 3D Printing
Now with 3D printing, designers can quickly make 3D models and prototypes. This is rapid prototyping. The quick modeling process allows for quick changes in the design.
Manufacturers can produce products on demand instead of in large runs. This helps improve inventory management, cuts back on waste, and reduces warehouse space needed.
People in remote locations can make models and objects that would have otherwise been inaccessible to them. 3D printing can also help manufacturers save money.
When objects are created in a subtractive process, materials are wasted. 3D printing allows you to only print the number of materials you need to make the actual object.
This could change the nature of manufacturing. Eventually, consumers will be able to download their own files from their home computers and then print their own objects. Electronic devices and other items could be sold like this in the future.
What Can a 3D Printer Make?
There are so many different things you can make with a 3D printer. Designers can make models and prototypes, but increasingly, we are seeing 3D printing being used to create final products as well.
Shoes, furniture, wax castings, tripods, children’s toys, and a wide range of gifts and accessories can all be made using 3D printing. The automotive industry is using 3D printing to make parts for cars. Artists are using 3D printing to make sculptures and pieces of art.
Archeologists use 3D printing to reconstruct models of fragile artifacts and make them appear life-size. Paleontologists and students are replicating dinosaur bones, skeletons, and fossils.
It seems like there is no limit on the things that you can create, thanks to 3D printing technology.
The Future Is Bright for 3D Printing
We are still in the early stages of 3D printing. 3D printing has only been around since the mid-’80s and we already have so many different applications for it. Just give it another 20 years and 3D printing will be doing much more than it already is today.
Now you know what is the purpose of a 3D printer. Browse our latest articles now to keep up with all the latest tech news and advancements.