Everything You Need to Know About 3D Printing

Advancements in technology have now allowed scientists and businesses to manufacture three-dimensional objects under computer control. 3D models are designed on the computer system and these models are then ‘printed’ or made by the 3D printing machine. A binding agent and a special powder are sprayed on to a power bed layer upon layer, using an inkjet printer.

3D printing forms just a part of the wider additive manufacturing (AM) process, where layers of a particular material are ‘added’ on to each other, until the final product takes shape and form. AM also includes other processes such as material extrusion, material jetting, binder jetting, directed energy deposition, sheet lamination, and vat photo polymerization.

Tools used

· 3D Scanners — These scanners help users design the product. There are various types of 3D scanners available- time-of-flight, structured/modulated light, volumetric scanning and others. An example of a 3D scanner is Microsoft’s Kinect.

· 3D Modeling software — From industrial grade software to open source software, there are many 3D modeling software available for users to choose from. These software are designed to be used by users with varying levels of experience.

· 3D Printer — There are multiple options when it comes to choosing the printer. This basically depends on what you want to print, how often you wish to print it, the strength of the laser, the process used and so on. From the most widely used Stereolithography (SLM) printer to Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM) printer, you have various 3D printing processes and technologies available. The printers such as Cartesian-XZ-head, Cartesian-XY-head, Delta, Polar and more are all good options to choose from.

The process of 3D printing

From machine parts to organs of the body, people have been able to print a diverse set of things through 3D printing. Here is how it works:

v Developing the CAD — The Computer Aided Design must be developed. Here, a design which the manufacturer has made is fed into the system. The CAD software will show users a virtual simulation of how the product looks, how the structural integrity will be when printed and so on.

v Converting CAD to STL — The Standard Tessellation Language (STL) is the file format developed for 3D systems. 3D printers can only read the STL and that is the main reason for converting the CAD to STL.

v Transferring the file to the AM Machine — The STL file is then fed into the computer that operates and controls the 3D printer. The design specifications are put into the system.

v Setting up the machine — The polymers, binders and other consumables that the printer needs are filled in and the system is set up to start the printing process.

v Printing — The machine starts building the product layer by layer. The actual printing may take hours to days, depending on the size and complexity of the product.

v Post-processing — The product is cleaned, brushed or washed and then it is made ready for use.