A comprehensive guide to 3D Printing technology

Robin Luo.

Here, Robin Luo, Market & Sales Manager at Dongguan Roche Industrial Company in Dongguan City, Guangdong Province, China, presents a close look at 3D printing – its history, what it is, how it works, the different technologies, applications and more. The company is one of the leading rapid prototyping firms in China and produces industrial products and accessories, high quality 3D prototypes, fast low-volume manufacturing, and high-volume production. Services include professional engineering, CNC machining (including CNC milling and turning), sheet metal fabrication and prototyping, vacuum casting, SLA, plastic and aluminum extrusion prototyping, rapid tooling, rapid injection moulding, surface treatments and other rapid prototyping services. For more information, please visit https://www.rocheindustry.com/.

What is 3D Printing? Are you planning to venture into manufacturing a particular product? Then 3D Printing is definitely one of the technologies that you should consider. Basically, 3D Printing, also known as Additive Manufacturing, is a way of making three-dimensional solid items or products from a digital file that has been created by a computer. The production of a 3D printed product is achieved by utilizing “additive procedures.” In the additive process, an item is created by continuously depositing progressive layers of material until the desired outcome is achieved. Each of these layers can be viewed as a thinly cut level cross-area of the possible finished product. 3D printing is very different from other forms of manufacturing, such as subtractive manufacturing. This is because the 3D process is characterized by the addition of items instead of the removing or ‘digging out’ a bit of the material or plastic with, for example, a processing machine. 3D printing makes it possible for one to create complex shapes inexpensively, by using much less material than conventional manufacturing processes.

A brief history of 3D Printing. Behind any amazing technology is a fascinating history. So, where did 3D printing come from? 3D printing originated in the late 1980s. It was first commercially utilized as a fast-prototyping strategy in the aviation and automotive industries. Charles Hull, who later helped to establish 3D Systems, earned a patent for a Stereolithography (SLA) framework. In 1988, 3D Systems made a major breakthrough when it sold its first modern 3D printer using the SLA technology. In the mid 1990s, numerous 3D printing organizations were established, and they all developed procedures and techniques that are still used in the modern 3D arena today. Three of the most significant 3D Printing organizations that emerged are still major players today – 3D Systems, EOS and Stratasys. It wasn’t until 2009 that 3D printing was commercially accessible to the majority of consumers. The RepRap open-source venture paved the way for reasonably priced desktop 3D printers using Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology. In the years following 2009, new organizations and different companies began enhancing and improving the average consumer desktop 3D Printer. Today, we have several high quality and affordable desktop 3D printer models that utilize FDM and other 3D printing technologies.

Exactly how does 3D Printing work? To make a 3D printed object, you utilize an “additive procedure.” The three-dimensional object is made by depositing progressive layers of material until the item is finally completed. However, This is just a general perspective of how the 3D printing process works. But, what are the underlying procedures? The procedure of 3D printing starts by making a realistic model of the object to be printed. This is normally done using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) programming software. This is usually viewed as the most intensive, detailed and delicate stage of the entire 3D printing procedure. Popular software for creating 3D printed models includes Tinkercad, Fusion 360 and SketchUp. They’re particularly ideal for creating more complex 3D objects while eliminating any potential deformities in the final object.

From software model to 3D printer. Cutting or slicing involves separating a 3D model into hundreds or sometimes even thousands of layers, and is completed by using cutting program software. The process will likely include bolster or supporting columns where required. These are needed because the material eventually used can’t be set down in thin air, and these columns help the 3D printed object maintain stability. These supports can be removed afterwards if necessary. Some 3D printers have a built-in slicer that lets you feed the crude .stl, .obj or even CAD document. Your cut 3D model is now ready to be 3D printed layer by layer.

Common 3D Printing processes

  • Fused deposition Modelling(FDM). Thermoplastic material is warmed and expelled through a nozzle. The spout releases the liquid material layer by layer onto a form stage. Each layer adheres to the one underneath it.
  • Stereolithography. The build stage begins with a ‘shower’ loaded with a liquid known as photopolymer gum. The resin is sensitive to light and gets much stronger when subjected to a laser beam. Each cross-area of the 3D model is deposited onto the layer of resin that preceded it. This is re-done layer by layer until the 3D object is finished.
  • Binder jetting. This method of 3D printing uses powder to create the layers of the material. An strong adhesive binder is used for binding the powder onto the material’s surface.
  • Selective laser sintering. This procedure uses a laser bar that ‘intertwines’ powdered material. The principal layer of powdered material is rolled equally onto the build platform, after which the layers of the 3D model are ‘sintered’ (i.e. combined) by a laser. Next, the build platform is brought down by the width of one layer, and the following layer of powder is folded into position. This procedure is repeated until the 3D object is done.

Is there a difference between 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing? Is 3D printing the same as additive manufacturing? Many people have been confused by these two terminologies. The short answer is no. The expression “3D printing” originates from the utilization of inkjet printer heads (in most 3D printers) to store either layers of UV-reparable photopolymer gum, or a coupling material onto a layer of powder in a powder-bed process. In any case, the term currently encompasses all additive manufacturing technology.

What is the difference between 3D printing and 4D printing? From a general point of view, 4D printing can be considered as a subset of 3D printing. The main difference is the state of the object or product after the printing process. With 3D printing, the object is expected to remain in the same solid state even after the entire process is completed. On the other hand, 4D printed products can change their original form when subjected to external forces.

Popular 3D Printing applications

Today, 3D printing has a broad range of applications worldwide. These include the automotive industry, aerospace, medicine, architecture, construction, consumer and industrial products, and many more.

  • Automotive Vehicle manufacturers have been using 3D printing for quite a while. Automotive companies are printing spare parts, apparatuses and much more. 3D printing has empowered on-demand manufacturing that has led to reducing inventory levels and has shortened development and creation cycles. Die-hard car enthusiasts around the globe are also utilizing 3D printed parts to update old and classic vehicles.
  • Construction. Another common application of 3D printing is in construction. Solid 3D printing has been used for quite a long time as a quick and less expensive approach to construct buildings. Huge-scope 3D printers that can print in concrete can be used on location for foundations and to fabricate walls. They can also be utilized to print specific solid areas that can be later assembled on the construction site.

Medicine. In recent years, there’s been a great deal of 3D printing applications used in the field medicine. The most common applications today include bioprinting and prosthetics. A new application that’s showing promise is bioprinting, or 3D printing of cells and tissue. It’s a dream that one day, we’ll have the ability to 3D-print bones and other organs for patients who need them, as opposed to waiting for organ donors. 3D-printed prosthetics illustrates 3D printing’s flexibility and creativity. It’s both difficult and costly to create prosthetics that perfectly fit a patient. However, many health organizations and institutions are able to address this issue much more cost-effectively thanks to 3D printing. Plus, patients from underdeveloped nations where prosthetics may not be a viable alternative, can now afford 3D-printed ones.

Education. An ever-increasing number of schools are incorporating 3D printing into their educational plan as devices to improve the quality of education. Makerspaces, furnished with printers, CNC machines, and different devices, are becoming a common thing in most schools. Additionally, 3D printers can be found in open libraries as of now. Most colleges have in any event use 3D printers for students to use for classes or their own tasks. Not only do 3D printers enable students to be more innovative, but at the same time, there’s a hope of better education from 3D printing.

Fashions and jewelery. One of the newest applications of 3D printing is in the art and fashion industries. 3D-printed jewellery has become a well-known speciality for those who desire to display their uniqueness and creativity. With 3D printers, jewellery creators can try different approaches with designs that were previously unrealistic with conventional jewellery-production techniques. Furthermore, 3D printers make it less expensive to create impressive single pieces of jewellery for clients. The versatility of 3D printing allows it to be used on different types of materials for jewellery.

Industrial manufacturing. 3D printing initially evolved as a quicker option for product prototyping – so it’s not unexpected that today it’s welcomed as a helpful application in the modern world. A major advantage of utilizing 3D printing is its adaptability and versatility, which makes it ideal for small-run fabricating and prototyping. Alternative methods such as injection-moulded prototyping may cost several thousands dollars more and take a much longer time to make a single mould. That’s not ideal if you’re attempting to achieve mass production. Put resources into a 3D printer, and you’ll get much more done within a short time frame. This makes 3D printing ideal for situations where you don’t want to venture into mass production. 3D technology can still suit your small-scale manufacturing needs at a much lower cost compared to conventional manufacturing which is mainly suited for mass production.

Consumer products. Apart from industrial products, 3D printing is also used for the manufacturing of consumer products. It’s a preferred method of manufacturing in this area because it facilitates mass production at lower costs. Some of the products that are made out of this process include footwear, audio products, eyewear, helmets, insoles – even dental aligners and much more.

The advantages of 3D Printing

As a manufacturer, there are several benefits gained from the 3D printing method of manufacturing. Some of the advantages will even trickle down to end-users of products. Here are some of the main benefits of 3D printing:

  1. Faster production. Let’s say you’re still using traditional manufacturing methods and are okay with them. However, when it comes to comparing them with 3D manufacturing, you’ll notice a huge difference – speed to market. 3D printing tests ideas and designs much more quickly. Quicker model development and design will eventually translate to more opportunities to showcase the prototype to potential clients. 3D printing creation takes mere hours. On the other hand, testing designs and prototypes with traditional assembling strategies can take days, if not weeks and even months.
  2. High quality designs and products. Conventional manufacturing strategies might result in sub-standard designs and sometimes low-quality models. Envision a situation where somebody needs to bake a cake by mixing all the ingredients together and placing them in the oven. A poorly done mixture will definitely result in a poorly done cake. You may experience such issues with injection and subractive methods of manufacturing and you’re not guaranteed 100% quality 100% of the time. 3D printing follows step-by-step deposition of specific materials and components, which ensures upgraded designs and in the long run, stronger, sturdier and better quality longer-life products.
  3. Easy to test and iterate. 3D printing provides room for testing a variety of models. It’s easier to discover the touch and feel of an item or prototype without spending a lot of money. From there, you’ll be in a position to easily unravel any design flaws or consider any changes. On the off chance that an issue is discovered, you can alter the CAD document and print out another model quickly.
  4. Easy to customize. Conventional manufacturing strategies are ideal for making a great many duplicates of similar items. However, it too often yields the same repetitive and exhausting designs without any significant improvements. Making each design special or unique with these strategies is phenomenally hard and expensive. 3D printing allows for virtually unending personalization, which makes end products a lot more attractive your customers. The only limitation is your imagination! You can make a product that is accurately designed to fit in somebody’s specific needs. This also eliminates the numerous visits that a client might need to ensure they have an appropriate product.
  5. Allows for different sizes and shapes. The good thing about 3D printing is the flexibility that it provides. You can create models of different shapes, sizes and geometry. Old techniques for assembling depend on moulds and slicing techniques to create the ideal shapes. Designing geometrically complex shapes can be time-consuming and costly with these technologies. 3D printing takes on this task effortlessly – and there’s very little that the technology can’t do with the use of the correct material.
  6. Can be used on different materials. 3D printing effectively suits a wide scope of materials, including metal, glass, plastic, paper, ceramics, diamond, and a plethora of other options. Most conventional manufacturing alternatives are very limited.

The limitations of 3D Printing

While 3D printing is a powerful tool for many different applications, it also has some limitations. There are applications and situations where it may not work as efficiently as expected.

Expensive: 3D printing can be more expensive than many traditional methods of manufacturing, depending on the quantities and quality you want. 3D printing hardware and materials may make your creation more costly. Modern 3D printers tend to be expensive, which makes the underlying costs of utilizing the innovation extremely high. The good news is you can avoid the issues of the high cost of 3D printing. One way is to simply outsource the service, and find affordable 3D printing services such as the company I work for – Dongguan Roche Industrial.

High energy consumption. Traditionally, 3D printers are “energy-thirsty” and tend to yield higher electricity bills. While such claims are true, outsourcing can, once again, be an efficient way of avoiding high electricity costs.

Toxic emissions. In the past, the first generation of 3D printers were known to emit toxic gases and chemicals into the environment. However, the latest 3D printers (along with new technology breakthroughs) have made these devices more and more environmentally friendly. Again, to avoid this, you can outsource 3D printing services to a reputable company and remove these risks.