3D printing. You may have heard of this but never really understood what it is.
What is 3D printing?
3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing where a 3-dimensional object is created by laying down multiple layers of a material. In contrast to traditional manufacturing, additive manufacturing refers to any process that adds on layers instead of cutting them away. Additive manufacturing has been used for decades for ‘rapid-prototyping’, but had always been prohibitively expensive. Only large corporations could afford these machines.
However now everyone from hobbyists to small business owners can afford them.
What can be produced by 3D printers?
Anything can be produced with 3D printing. Some of the more common uses include sculptures, machine parts, jewelry, furniture, medical casts such as dental crowns, recreational goods and body armor.
The most common materials used are production-grade plastics like ABS plastic, nylon, wax, and epoxy resins, titanium, stainless steel, gold and silver.
The object below is a 3D car model weighing a total of 248 pounds!
What is the process of using a 3D printer?
While there are many different 3D printing processes, all of the processes feature an overall similar scheme. 3D printers are an additive process, meaning that material is added to build the product, rather than being taken away, making 3D printing more energy efficient and less wasteful. 3D printing is also usually faster as well. The process begins when the 3D printer receives the digital file, which contains layers that are read by the printer as different slices. These slices help the printer to construct and define each different layer. The product begins to take shape as material is deposited by the printer as many thin layers until the full product emerges.
One of the most common processes is called Stereo-lithographic printing, which uses UV laser beams to trace slices onto liquid polymer. Applying laser beams onto the polymer causes the liquid to harden. Selective laser sintering is another common process where a laser fuses layered powder granules together. Sintering allows for many different types of powder-based materials, including nylon, glass, steel, titanium, aluminum and silver. A similar process is called multi-jet modeling. It involves powder-layering and then spraying on a cohesive to bind the granules. And less common, fused deposition modeling is a process where a print head extrudes hot thermoplastic.
How much do these printers cost?
3D printers range anywhere from $1000-$200,00 depending on their capacity for detail, their compatible materials and the maximum build size. For small businesses a good 3D printer will cost at least $6,000-$15,000.
If a 3D printer is something your business might only use a few times a year they have the option to contract out to 3D printing services.
A comparison of some 3D printer models can be found here: Comparison Chart
Here is a list of some 3D-printing services if contracting out is a better option: Printer services