Are you harbouring a curiosity about how the world of manufacturing has a complete turnabout thanks to 3D printing? This is not an alien feeling. A while ago, we were captivated by this marvellous technology, particularly upon discovering that it is older than the internet itself! Intrigued? Well then, let us embark together on this blog journey.
In the following lines, we will traverse through everything, from the riveting history of 3D printing to its functionality and diverse real-life applications. But hold your horses. There is so much more we’re going to dive into within the vast cosmos of 3D printing.
What is 3D Printing?
Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing is a revolutionary technology that has transformed the way we design and manufacture several products. It has been around since the mid-1940s and evolved into various types of printing processes like vat photopolymerisation, sheet lamination, and directed energy deposition.
3D printing allows us to create three-dimensional objects from digital 3D or CAD models. The process works by adding material layer by layer, as opposed to traditional subtractive manufacturing methods that involve cutting away material from a solid block.
The 3D printing applications are vast and diverse. It is being used in the medical industry to create customised patient care and in the automotive industry for faster prototyping and lighter yet stronger car parts.
3D printing is also used in consumer products for unique designs and cost-cutting mass customisation. In education, it is used to enhance learning experiences and inclusivity. Even in the food industry, it is used for more efficient and sustainable food production.
The 3D printing future looks promising, with advancements leading to bigger, faster, and cheaper printers. It will become more versatile and scalable beyond just prototyping. Digitisation through 3D printing can also strengthen supply chains while offering customisation options. Moreover, 3D printing has a positive impact on the environment as it uses recyclable materials.
Terminology of 3D Printing
Some terms need explanation here. Additive manufacturing is just a fancy name for making things by adding stuff bit by bit instead of taking away from a big block of material—that is what we do in traditional methods like carving or drilling holes into things.
We also say rapid prototyping in the world of 3D printing. That is because these printers help designers test out new ideas very quickly before they go into full-scale production.
History of 3D Printing
The start of 3D printing was a long time ago. In the mid-1940s, people first had the idea of 3D printing. The first one to describe it was Murray Leinster in his short story Things Pass By, in which he envisioned a machine that could take his drawings and use melted plastic to form 3D objects.
In 1981, the fiction became a reality. The real action started when Dr. Hideo Kodama made the first-ever 3D printer. A few years later, Chuck Hull gave us another big step forward. He used something called stereolithography (SLA) to make his own 3D printer in the late 1980s.
Types of 3D Printing Processes
There are several different 3D printing processes, each with its own unique characteristics and applications. They include vat photopolymerisation, stereolithography (SLA), fused deposition modelling (FDM), selective laser sintering (SLS), sheet lamination, binder jetting, and directed energy deposition (DED). Let’s explore some of its most common processes.
Vat photopolymerisation is a cool way to make 3D objects. First, it uses a liquid called a photopolymer resin as the primary material. That is why it is also known as resin-based 3D printing. This resin gets solidified when exposed to light. The used light source is often ultraviolet (UV) light or a digital light projector (DLP).
The magic happens layer by layer until the object is done. Some of the types of vat photopolymerisation are digital light processing (DLP), continuous digital light processing (CDLP), and stereolithography (SLA). The choice between SLA and DLP largely depends on factors like speed, resolution, and cost, with SLA offering high resolution but slower printing speeds compared to DLP.
Vat photopolymerisation is known for its ability to produce highly detailed objects with accurate parts and smooth surfaces. That’s why it is often used in applications where fine detail, precision, and surface quality are essential, such as in dental models, jewellery, figurines, and prototyping. It is also beneficial in many industries like car making, space stuff, healthcare, and even toys.
Fused Deposition Modelling
Fused deposition modelling (FDM) is among the most popular and widely used 3D printing processes. It was developed by Stratasys in the late 1980s. It deposits plastic resin layer by layer to produce functional and durable parts in common engineering plastics.
FDM works by heating a thermoplastic filament, such as ABS or PLA, to its melting point and then extruding it through a nozzle onto a build platform. The heated nozzle moves in the X, Y, and Z axes, depositing material layer by layer to create the final object. As each layer cools and solidifies, it fuses with the previous one.
This technique is known for its affordability, ease of use, and versatility, making it suitable for various applications, including custom part manufacturing, rapid prototyping, and educational purposes. It is particularly favoured in the DIY crafts and maker communities. Industries like automotive, aerospace, and consumer goods use FDM for concept modelling and low-volume production.
Sheet lamination is another process of 3D printing. This method lets us make complex shapes with different types of materials. Unlike other 3D printing processes that use liquid resins, powders, or filaments, sheet lamination relies on flat, thin sheets of material. It can use things like paper, plastic, or metal foil. Sometimes, it can use powder-based materials instead of sheets for making objects.
It works by stacking layers of sheets on top of each other and then bonding these layers together using heat, pressure, or adhesive. There are two ways to do this: either by ultrasonic additive manufacturing (UAM) or laminated object manufacturing (LOM).
Sheet lamination is not as widely used as other 3D printing processes. However, it has its unique advantages as it is fast, cost-effective, and safe. It also uses non-toxic, recyclable materials and can incorporate colours and textures into objects.
Sheet lamination is particularly useful for creating large-scale models, packaging prototypes, and objects where appearance and texture are important factors. Therefore, it is used in various industries, including architecture, packaging design, and educational settings. However, it may not provide the same level of detail and precision as some other 3D printing processes.
Directed Energy Deposition
Directed energy deposition (DED) is another 3D printing process that involves the precise deposition of the powdered or wire feedstock material onto a substrate. You can use different kinds of metals, alloys, and hybrid materials for this. That is why DED is often referred to as a “metal 3D printing” process because it primarily uses metal materials, although it can also use ceramics and some polymers.
DED uses heat to melt stuff like metal into layers. We do this layer by layer until we get the shape we want. The steps to follow come from a tool that makes 3D shapes on a computer called CAD geometry.
This versatile technique allows for the repair, fabrication, or modification of complex, large-scale components you have already made with a 3D printer. That is why it is beneficial in many industries, including aerospace, defence, and automotive, where hard-to-replace or expensive parts can benefit from restoration.
Since DED can be used for rapid prototyping of metal components, it is also used in engineering and designing to iterate and test designs.
Applications of 3D Printing
3D printing has various applications across different industries due to its versatility and capability to create customised, intricate, and complex objects. From the medical industry to consumer products, let’s discover some notable applications of 3D printing.
In the world of medicine, 3D printing is making big changes. It helps doctors and nurses do their jobs better. With a 3D printer, they can make body parts like teeth or bones, and this is what is called customised patient care.
The future of medical technology looks exciting because of the new ways we are using printers. Besides the creation of patient-specific implants and prosthetics, this technology also makes it possible to create medical tools and devices. It can create customised surgical tools and guides, along with 3D-printed anatomical models for surgical planning and education.
3D printing is also beneficial in dentistry as it can produce customised dental crowns, bridges, and dentures. It is also used to create orthodontic devices, like braces and clear aligners. Plus, it creates dental models for diagnosis and treatment planning.
The money people spend on 3D printing in medicine is getting bigger. Right now, it’s worth around $700 million. Not all of this goes to healthcare, only about 1.6%. But by the year 2032, people are expected to be spending $11 billion on it, which is a lot more than now.
In the education sector, 3D printing is revolutionising the way we teach and learn. It allows students to bring their ideas to life and explore complex concepts in a hands-on and engaging manner.
With 3D printing, we can create visual models that help students understand things better. We can create educational tools for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) learning, like molecules or architectural structures.
3D printing also encourages problem-solving skills, creativity, and innovation as students design and fabricate their own objects. On top of that, it makes learning more inclusive by providing tactile resources for visually impaired students. The future of education is exciting with the integration of 3D printing into classrooms.
In some schools in Austria, especially vocational schools, it’s quite common to have a 3D printer in a classroom. There is also a subject for drawing objects and then printing them using a 3D printer.
Exciting items like fashion add-ons, home decor bits, and personalised gifts are all made using this method. 3D printing can also customise consumer goods, such as phone cases and household items. On top of that, it can make replacement parts for appliances and gadgets.
By using 3D printing for mass customisation, we are seeing more unique and personal items than ever before. This brings better designs while also cutting costs down. It shows that 3D printing is not just about cool tech, but it is also about smoke-free manufacturing and Earth safety.
In the food industry, 3D printing is also being used to make food production more efficient and sustainable. Big companies in the food industry are already using this technology to show how food production can be changed for the better.
There are even special 3D printers made just for making food. This type of printing allows for creative culinary presentations. It can customise chocolates, candies, and pastries.
3D printing of food items has the potential to transform how we make our meals and help us use resources wisely. It is exciting to see how quickly this technology is growing and what it means for our future meals.
Thanks to 3D printing, cars are better and safer now. This new way of making things is changing how we build cars. It lets us easily make parts that could be too hard with old ways.
People who make cars use this technology to try out designs fast before they decide on the best one. They can also change car parts according to each person’s needs.
This technology can also create customised and lightweight car parts, improving fuel efficiency and performance. The best part is that every part in a car might come from a 3D printer soon. This way, cars get lighter but remain strong, so they take less fuel and go faster.
Prototyping and Product Development
3D printing can also be used in rapid prototyping for design validation and functional testing. Rapid prototyping allows engineers and designers to quickly iterate and test product designs. It reduces development costs and speeds up the product development cycle.
Some people all over the world have their own 3D printer at home, which has many advantages. For example, if you live in a big house and you need to repair something, you just draw the part and then print it.
The costs are not as expensive as you might think. The drawing software and the slicer, Cura, for example, are free. Most of the time, you do not even need drawing software because you can download nearly everything from the internet. You just need a 3D printer, which starts at about £200.
Benefits of 3D Printing
We can expect 3D printing to become even more versatile and scalable, going beyond just prototyping and into actual production. With digitisation through 3D printing, supply chains can become stronger and more resilient. 3D printing has the potential to optimise supply chains and reduce carbon emissions since it enables decentralised and local production, reducing shipping and transportation costs.
3D printing also allows us to create highly customised and personalised products, catering to individual preferences and needs. This is particularly valuable in fields like healthcare, where patient-specific implants and prosthetics can be produced.
Another great thing about 3D printing is that it has a positive impact on the environment. Additive manufacturing is more sustainable than subtractive methods because it generates less material waste. So, sustainable practices will become increasingly important in 3D printing, with a focus on using eco-friendly, recyclable materials and reducing energy consumption.
So, not only are you making cool stuff with 3D printers, but you are also being eco-friendly. The possibilities with 3D printing are endless—who knows what incredible things we will be able to create in the future?
Future of 3D Printing
The future of 3D printing looks really exciting and filled with possibilities, ranging from transforming industries to improving healthcare and driving sustainability efforts. Innovation and investment in research and development will drive this technology forward, making it an integral part of manufacturing and everyday life.
Advancements in this technology mean that we will have bigger, faster, and cheaper 3D printers in the future. This means more people will be able to use them and create amazing, unique things.
Artificial intelligence and automation will play a significant role in optimising 3D printing processes, reducing errors, and enhancing design capabilities. As 3D printing becomes more widespread, regulatory bodies will likely develop guidelines and standards to ensure product safety and quality.
3D printing has come a long way since its invention in the last century. With various types of technologies and processes, it has different applications in diverse industries like medicine, automotive, consumer products, education, and even food. The future of 3D printing looks promising as it continues to revolutionise manufacturing and create endless possibilities for tangible objects.
1. What is 3D printing?
3D printing is the process of stacking up materials based on a digital design to create a three-dimensional object.
2. How does 3D printing work?
In 3D printing, a digital model or blueprint is sent to the printer, which then melts or deposits materials such as plastic, metal, or resin in thin layers to build up the object from the bottom up.
3. What can you make with 3D printing?
With 3D printing, you can create various objects, including prototypes, tools, toys, spare parts, jewellery, and even prosthetic limbs.
4. Is 3D printing expensive?
The cost of the use of a 3D printer depends on the size and complexity of the object being printed and the type of used material. Prices for consumer-grade printers start around £200 but can go into thousands for professional-grade models.
5. Are there any limitations to what can be achieved with 3D printing?
While 3D printing is an impressive and versatile technology, it has some limitations. These limitations include print size restrictions (depending on the printer), limited material options compared to traditional manufacturing methods, and often slower production times than mass manufacturing processes.