Computer technology is used in 3D printing to produce 3-dimensional solid objects. This type of printing combines the computer program and the additive process, which involves layering materials in thin horizontal cross-sections, to reproduce solid objects. Essentially, the material is laid, layer after layer, to create a 3-dimensional object. This is referred to as an additive process as the object is created from scratch.
Virtually anything can be created from 3D printing including machine parts, guns or toys. It is important to know 3D printing history to understanding what lies ahead in manufacturing as this technology becomes increasingly popular and more readily available to the general public.
Even though a variety of techniques and materials like plastic and metal are used in 3D printers, they share the capacity to transform digital files with 3-dimensional data into physical objects. This is true whether the data was created from a 3D scanner, on a computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) program or from a computer-aided design (CAD).
3D Printing History and Development
The first record of 3D printing by way of the additive process happened in 1981 as the brainchild of Hideo Kodama, a Japanese inventor. He produced a product that utilized ultraviolet lights as a means of hardening polymers and creating solid objects. This is the foundation on which stereolithography (SLA) was built.
Invented by Charles Hull, stereolithography is essentially a process in the vein of 3D printing that utilizes technology to produce smaller editions of objects so that they can be tested prior to spending money and time on the creation of the actual product. The printing process involved in producing the object takes on a layered approach. Basically, it is printed layer after layer, a solvent is then used to rinse it and an ultraviolet light is used to harden it. The creation of the 3D models is made possible through the use of computer-aided designs (CAD).
Selective Laser Sintering
SLS or Selective Laser Sintering is a more cutting-edge variety of 3D printing. a modern manufacturing technology that was created by Carl Deckard at UT ME (The University of Texas at Austin’s Mechanical Engineering Department) in the 1986. This approach involves the use of additive manufacturing along with a powder polymer, usually nylon, to make objects. A laser is used in SLS to fuse together the powder, layer by layer, transforming it into more intricate shapes than SLA has the capacity to create.
Fused Deposition Modeling
FDM or Fused Deposition Modeling was developed by Scott Crump and nowadays, it is the most commonly used type of 3D printing. Since it is the most commonly used technology in 3D printing, it is widely referred to as the “desktop 3D printer.” To create an object, the printer heats up a cable of thermoplastic, transforms it into liquid form and ejects it layer by layer.
How It Works?
Similar to traditional printers, a variety of technologies are used by 3D printers. As previously highlighted, FDM, which is also referred to as FFF or fused filament fabrication, is the most widely used technology. In it, there is a filament that comprises ABS or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, PLA or polylactic acid or another type of thermoplastic. This is melted and channeled through a heated nozzle in layers. In the mid-1990s, Stratasys, with assistance from IBM, introduced the first 3D printers to the market, using FDM, a phrase Stratasys trademarked, as do the majority of 3D printers meant for schools, hobbyists and consumers.
When using stereolithography for 3D printing, a UV laser is shone into a container of photopolymer that is sensitive to ultraviolet, outlining the object to be made on its surface. Whenever touched by the beam, the polymer solidifies and layer by layer, the beam “prints” the object according to the instructions in the CAM or CAD file from which it is working.
DLP or digital light projector is another form of 3D printing and a variation of stereolithography. This technique uses a digital light processing projector to expose a liquid polymer to light. Layer by layer, the polymer is hardened until the object is created, then the excess liquid polymer is drained.
Multi-jet modeling is basically a 3D printing system similar to an inkjet that sprays a glue-like, colored binder onto sequential layers of powder at the point where the object is to be made. This is one of the fastest techniques and among the few that backs multicolor printing.
It is possible for a standard inkjet to be modified to print with resources other than ink. Resourceful do-it-yourselfers have modded or built print heads, typically piezoelectric heads, to be compatible with a variety of materials. In a number of cases, they even print out the print heads on other 3D printers. There are also companies that sell complete printing systems and 3D-capable print heads.
With SLS, a high-powered laser is used to fuse particles of metal, plastic, glass or ceramic. At the end, the outstanding material is recycled. As suggested by the name, EBM or Electron beam melting uses an electron beam to, layer by layer, melt metal powder. Typically, titanium is used with EBM to create aircraft parts and medical implants.
Based on the technique, a variety of materials can be used by 3D printers, including metals like aluminum, stainless steel, titanium, and solder. Other materials include ceramics, plastics, glass plaster and polymers, which include composites that combine metals with plastics, wood and other materials. Even foodstuffs like chocolate, icing and cheese.
Benefits of 3D Printing
Designers have the capacity to rapidly transform concepts into prototypes or 3D models and implement fast design changes with 3D printing. This enables manufacturers to create products on demand instead of in large runs, enhancing inventory management and lowering the need for warehouse space. Individuals in remote locations can manufacture objects that would be inaccessible to them otherwise.
From a practical perspective, 3D printing can save material and money as opposed to subtractive techniques, since raw material waste is very little. Additionally, 3D printing technology promises to revolutionize the nature of manufacturing, ultimately allowing consumers to download files, even complex 3D objects like electronic devices, in their own homes for printing.
Meaningful 3D Printing
• Hearing Aids
Through an in-depth collaboration process and co-creation, seasoned 3D professionals can assist companies in identifying meaningful applications that could generate real growth in their business. For example, hearing aids represent a very meaningful application. When the transformative power of 3D printing was discovered by the hearing-aid industry, the change was rapid and irrevocable. Within a period of 500 days, more than 90 percent of hearing aids in the United States made the transition from traditional manufacturing to 3D Printing. In a matter of months, the entire industry was transformed.
• Healthcare Industry
In addition, 3D Printing has impacted the healthcare industry in a major way. The first customized surgical implants and customized surgical guides were created via 3D printing, changing lives and assisting researchers, clinicians and engineers to achieve the desired outcomes for their patients. Currently, the blueprints of these revolutions are being used to revolutionize the eyewear industry.
There has also been an increase in the adoption of 3D printing within the industrial manufacturing industry. Additionally, prominent manufacturers in the consumer goods, aerospace and automotive industries embrace 3D printing as a means of creating end-use products. This is largely because they have come to realize that the design optimizations created by this technology in current vertical applications. They also recognize the potential it has to create new and major business opportunities within new markets.
These days, there is software that allows the operations of many industries to be scaled and their productivity and profitability to increase. This is achieved by addressing the primary cost drivers: machines, materials and manual labor.
The Future of 3D
Currently, desktop 3D printers are better and more inexpensive than ever and they are improving continuously. 3D printing history has taught us that technology will keep on advancing and do so very rapidly. Before long, each home will have a 3D printer.
There is an enthusiastic core group of supporters who benefit from having this type of printer in their homes; however, the majority of the desktop units are really used in businesses and schools. There has been dramatic improvement in affordability but there is still a need for CAD skills to produce the STL files that run the 3D printers.
Furthermore, the quality achieved from the commercial units is way above that of the consumer-grade, more modest printers. For the majority of individuals, using the expertise of 3D printing services is the best method of taking advantage of the ever-increasing potential of 3D manufacturing. Consumers can receive access to first-class printers and materials to complete important projects without having to purchase a machine.
Overall, there have been considerable improvements and changes in 3D printing over the last thirty years. FDM, SLS and SLA highlight 3D printing history and how it became an essential manufacturing tool. By simply creating a computer file, you can make virtually anything.
Charles Stephenson received a Masters Degree in Engineering from MIT University. Charles has been working in the Industrial 3D Printing industry for over 5 years. Charles regularly contributes content to several 3D Printing websites including Pirate3D.com.