An incredibly versatile invention with some amazing breakthroughs has made 3D printing one of the most exciting technologies available. With the range of materials growing, capabilities expanding, and prices falling, it’s a must-have piece of equipment for makers.
Essentially, 3D printing allows you to render any conceivable object into physical reality. It allows you to perform rapid prototyping in iterative design processes, manufacture custom parts, and precision model production for testing, focus groups, and clients. You can save time and money on projects from new product launches to home-based crafts.
Every object begins as a digital file, which the 3D printing software follows to recreate the object. Design software slices an object into individual layers so that varying depths and contours can be duplicated. The same design can be altered, copied, or shared as needed. The design is then printed using a 3D printer by adding material in layers.
A growing maker culture around this technology has empowered businesses, artists, students, architects, and more to create and explore original designs. If you’re ready to explore the world of 3D printing, here are five important things you should be aware of.
Not All 3D Printers Give The Same Result
The 3D printing field is complex and requires some technical understanding to make the right choices. There are different models of 3D printer available, each designed for a certain purpose. Various printers are intended for use with specific materials and specifications. Some of the most common types of 3D printing technologies are listed below:
a) FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) is one of the more widely used techniques. FDM involves a spool of solid material feeding a filament of material such as plastic into the print heads to be melted and applied to an object. This is an affordable and fast process that works for a range of modeling applications. However, FDM may not deliver quality results in reproducing complex designs.
b) SLA & DLP, or Stereolithography and Digital Light Processing printers, deposit a liquid resin that can be fused using a powerful light source. Such substances are called photopolymers. By strictly controlling the amount of resin applied to anyone spot and quickly solidifying it, SLA/DLP printers can create more intricate and durable objects.
c) SLS, or Laser Sintering, deposits powdered materials that are melted and fused using a laser. Powdered materials can include various metals so SLS is frequently used in industrial applications. The 3D-printed object can be substantial, depending on the size of the printer; so many manufacturers use SLS printers to create working prototypes and often finished products.
Different Materials for Different Products
The different types of material that are now used in 3D printing provide a wide range of options.These materials include plastics like nylon, or ABS for harder surfaces, and a variety of resins and polymers that produce a hard but more delicate object. Resins are typically white or black, but can also be transparent. There are also a number of powdered metals, such as aluminum, stainless steel, and hard titanium for industrial use, not to mention minerals like gypsum and colored ceramics for artistic projects.Plastics are still the most commonly used 3D printing material.
Plastics are suited to a vast number of home and office products, from containers to children’s toys. Printing plastics is very cost efficient where various changes are made in perfecting designs, compared to traditional plastics manufacture using injection molding.
Compared to more traditional approaches that involved considerable effort and specific tools, 3D printing is an easy to use technology that is especially useful for creating original or personalized items with very low waste.
Make Your Own or Download Available Ready-to-print Designs
A 3D design file is basically a mathematical blueprint of the three-dimensional surfaces of the desired object. The file is created by CAD (computer-aided design) software. CAD tools are available for both computers and mobile devices.
Learning CAD tools enables you to create unique designs or download existing files and modify them as you like. If you don’t want to create your own designs, you can find numerous 3D-content platforms online with files ready to download. Some of the most recommended sites include Thingiverse, Sketch tab, Grabcad, and MyMindFactory.
Take Necessary Precautions
Owning a 3D printer enables you to make your own customized toys, buttons, handles, etc., but before you start printing, there are safety concerns you should be aware of.
Apart from the material being at a high temperature as it’s used, the object in question and the printer bed can remain hot well after the printing is finished. Many printers will have a safety enclosure around the print bed, but some models don’t.
It’s important to use caution not only to avoid burns but other harmful effects. Plastics and resins can generate fumes, so your 3D printer should only be used with adequate ventilation. ABS plastics are especially known for this. Though there may be no long-term health effects, the fumes themselves can be overwhelming.Hot plastics or metal can cause severe burns, so safety precautions are always recommended.
The world of 3D printing is evolving rapidly to fill many personal and business needs. There is a range of options in printer designs and materials, depending on your intended use. If you’re going to start producing items, you should familiarize yourself with the technology and the creation of digital design files using CAD. You can find many helpful resources online.
Learning the skills involved in 3D printing is both challenging and fun. Your own creative potential is almost limitless when you think about all the objects you can make; houseware, vases, custom tools, replacement parts, and more. Whenever you’re unsure what to print next, you can search the Internet for free, ready-to-print files.From original artwork to unique commercial products, a 3D printer can become a source of income or an endlessly fascinating and rewarding hobby.
About Author: Heather Redding is a tech enthusiast and freelance writer based in Aurora, Illinois. She is a coffee-addict who enjoys swimming and reading. Street photography is her newly discovered artistic outlet and she likes to capture life’s little moments with her camera. You can reach Heather via Twitter.