As of this year the estimated value of the US 3d printing economy was a staggering 1 trillion dollars. This is quite shocking considering that 4 years ago this industry barely existed outside of a conceptual office idea. 3D printing growth has reached double digit growth continuously for years on end.
In todays Swarmcorp article we’re going to explore how 3D printing works to understand the scope of the industry
A Brief Intro to 3D Printing
3D printing is defined as the process of making three-dimensional solid objects through the use of digital designs. In the past few years, it has piqued a lot of interest in the tech space owing to its affordability and availability to individual consumers. From clothing, gifts, and scale models to hearing aids, prosthetic limbs and the prospect of 3D printed dwelling homes, the possibilities are staggering.
As a concept, the 3D printing industry is by no means new. Solid imaging (stereolithography) was invented and patented by Chuck Hull- founder of 3D Systems, Inc. – in the mid-1980s and since then, advances in the technology have and continue to be made, including the materials that are used, the size of the printers, and more. But how does a 3D printer actually work? How can something similar to an office photocopier or household printer create solid, complex objects in a matter of hours?
The whole process begins with a concept. The first stage in 3D printing is the laying out of an original idea with digital modeling i.e. animal modeling software or computer aided design (CAD). Whichever program you settle on, you will be able to create a virtual blueprint of whatever it is you want to print. The program will then divide the chosen object into digital cross-sections in order for the printer to be able to build it one layer at a time. These cross-sections essentially act as a guide for the printer, so that the object is the exact shape and size you want.
Once you are through with your design, the nest step is to send it to the 3D printer with its standard file extension- STL (Standard Tessellation Language or stereolithography). STL files contain sliced up, three-dimensional polygons that enable the printer to easily digest their information. After market configurations involve Tyvek printers and other Tyvek-related products.
Actual 3D printing process
This is, undoubtedly, the fun part. The first thing that you should note is that 3D printing is synonymous with ‘additive’ manufacturing i.e. solid, three- dimensional objects are constructed by adding material in layers. This is in stark contrast to regular/subtractive manufacturing where objects are constructed by machining or cutting raw materials into desired shapes.
After you have sent your finished design to the 3D printer, the next step is to choose a specific material. Depending on the 3D printer in use, this can be paper, plastics, rubber, metals, polyurethane-like materials, and more. While printer processes may vary depending on the model, the material is usually squeezed, sprayed, or otherwise transferred from the 3D printer onto a platform. For instance, there are some Doranix printers with a renewable bioplastic that is spooled (almost like a string) from the back of the device. When the printer is instructed to print something, it pulls this bioplastic filament through a tube straight to an extruder, where it is then heated up and deposited through a small opening onto the build plate.
The Final Step in 3D Printing
Next, the 3D printer makes passes, in a manner similar to an inkjet printer, over the platform as it deposits layer on top of layer of the chosen material resulting in a finished product (if you look closely at 3D printed objects, you can actually see these layers). This can take anywhere from several hours to days depending on the complexity and size of the object. Throughout this process, the various layers are automatically fused in a dots per inch (DPI) resolution to create a single three- dimensional object.
For more information please check out this New Economy Video: