3D printing is a way to create 3 dimensional physical objects directly from digital files. 3D printing is also called Additive manufacturing. This term accurately describes how this technology works to create objects. Unlike conventional machining, casting and forging processes, where material is removed from a stock item or poured into a mold and shaped by means of dies, presses and hammers. 3D printing is the opposite of subtractive manufacturing which is cutting out / hollowing out a piece of metal or plastic with for instance a milling machine.
3D printing enables you to produce complex shapes using less material than traditional manufacturing methods.
How Does 3D Printing Work?
There are 3 main steps in 3D printing.
The first step is the preparation just before printing, when you design a 3D fileof the object you want to print. This 3D file can be created using CAD software , with a 3D scanner or simply downloaded from an online marketplace. Once you have checked that your 3D file is ready to be printed , you can proceed to the second step.
The second step is the actual printing process. First, you need to choose which material will best achieve the specific properties required for your object. The variety of materials used in 3D printing is very broad. It includes plastics, ceramics, resins, metals, sand, textiles, bio-materials, glass, food and even lunar dust! Most of these materials also allow for plenty of finishing options that enable you to achieve the precise design result you had in mind, and some others, like glass for example, are still being developed as 3D printing material and are not easily accessible yet.
The third step is the finishing process. This step requires specific skills and materials. When the object is first printed, often it cannot be directly used or delivered until it has been sanded, lacquered or painted to complete it as intended.
The material chosen for the project will determine which printing methods are most suitable. Among these, the most commonly used techniques for each group of materials are described next.
3D Modeling Software
There are many different 3D modeling software tools available. Industrial grade software can easily cost thousands a year per license, but there’s also open source software you can get for free.
We often recommend beginners to start with Tinker cad. Tinker cad is free and works in your browser, you don’t have to install it on your computer. Tinker cad offers beginner lessons and has a built-in feature to get your 3D model printed via a 3D print service.
Now that you have a 3D model, the next step is to prepare the file for your 3D printer. This is called slicing.
Applications of 3D Printing
3D printing encompasses many forms of technologies and materials as 3D printing is being used in almost all industries you could think of. It’s important to see it as a cluster of diverse industries with a myriad of different applications.
A few examples:
- clear aligners / braces in dentistry
- eye wear
- architectural scale models & Marquette
- movie props
- design (lamps, furniture etc)
- reconstructing fossils in paleontology
- replicating ancient artifacts in archaeology
- reconstructing bones and body parts in forensic pathology
- reconstructing heavily damaged evidence retrieved from a crime scene