In 2020 and so far in 2021, 3D printing has been used a lot to help health institutions fight the coronavirus. Due to 3D printing, millions of personal protective equipment and ventilator parts have been sent to hospitals on the front lines of the fight against COVID 19. And this is just the beginning of what 3D printing is capable of.
What a 3D printing machine looks like and how it works
3D printing is part of the additive manufacturing set. A 3D printing machine uses methods very similar to those of a traditional inkjet printer, but in 3 dimensions. Printing takes a combination of top-of-the-line software, specific materials, a power source, and precision tools to create a three-dimensional 3D object from scratch.
Below are some of the main steps 3D printers take to bring your ideas to life.
3D Modeling Software
The first step of 3D printing is 3D modeling: all objects are manufactured from a 3D model. There are designs that involve complex manufacturing geometries, almost impossible to obtain with a traditional manufacturing method. That’s where CAD software comes in.
Modeling allows printers to customize their product down to the smallest detail. The ability of 3D modeling software to enable precision designs is why 3D printing is being regarded as a real game-changer in many industries. This modeling software is important for multiple industries, such as dentistry, where laboratories use three-dimensional software to design dental aligners that are precisely tailored to the individual, or for the space industry, where it is used to design some of the most intricate parts of a rocket.
“Cut” the model
After you create the model, you have to cut it, divide it into layers. This means that engineers must cut the model into layers for the printer to create the final product. The cutting software collects information from each layer of a model and tells the printer how to move to recreate that layer. It also tells 3D printers where and how to “fill” a model. This filler gives a 3D printed object lattices and internal structures that help shape and strengthen the object. Once the model is cut and the manufacturing parameters are defined, it is sent to the 3D printer for the actual printing process.
How to 3D print
The 3D printer generally acts similarly to that of a traditional inkjet printer in the direct 3D printing process. In the most commonly known 3D printing process, molten deposition molding or FDM, a nozzle moves back and forth while dispensing a molten plastic-like polymer, layer by layer, waiting for that layer to consolidate, then adding the next level. Basically, add hundreds or thousands of 2D prints, one on top of the other, to create a three-dimensional object. In other 3D printing technologies, it is the energy source that replicates the model layer by layer, affecting plastic or metal powder, or resin in a liquid state, consolidating and solidifying the material where it affects.
FDM type 3D printing machines usually have 3 axes, in addition to a motor, a fan and a heatsink and the aforementioned extrusion nozzle that is the one that provides the polymer -plastic- heated to 200 degrees Celsius, added layer by layer to create the model designed in CAD.
Materials for 3D printing
There are a variety of different materials that a printer uses to recreate an object in the best possible way. Here are some examples:
- Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS): It is a plastic material that is easy to mold and difficult to break. The same material that LEGO is made of.
- Carbon fiber filaments: Carbon fiber is used to create objects that must be strong, but also extremely light.
- Conductive filaments: These printable materials can be used to print electrical circuits without the need for wires.
- Flexible filaments: Flexible filaments produce prints that are flexible but resistant. These materials can be used to print anything from wristwatches to phone cases.
- Metal filament: Metal filaments are made of powdered metals dispersed in polymer. They can be made of steel, brass, bronze and copper to obtain the true appearance and touch of a metal object, although the resistance will be given mainly by its plastic matrix.
- Wood filament: These filaments contain finely ground wood powder mixed with a polymeric material.
The 3D printing process takes anywhere from a few minutes or a few hours for really simple prints, such as a box or a ball, to weeks for much larger detailed projects, such as a full-size house.
3D printing according to the size, detail and scope of a project
There are also different types of 3D printing depending on the size, detail and scope of a project.
Each different type of printer will vary slightly in the way an object is printed. Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is probably the most widely used form of 3D printing. It is incredibly useful for making prototypes and models with plastic.
Stereolithography (SLA) technology is a type of rapid prototyping printing that is best suited to printing with intricate detail. The printer uses an ultraviolet laser to create the objects in a matter of hours.
Digital light processing (DLP) is one of the oldest forms of 3D printing. DLP uses lamps to produce prints at higher speeds than SLA printing because the layers dry out in seconds.
We hope you have understood how a 3D printing machine works and the types of materials and technologies that can be used.
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