With the rapid growth of 3D design technology in product development and online consumer 3D print services, and the growing adoption of 3D software in architecture, interior design and manufacturing, there is a strong demand for 3D printers to produce these prototypes. Purchasing a 3D printer may be a little too expensive for some companies, therefore setting the stage for current printing companies to add 3D printing to their list of offerings. Let’s explore different 3D printers currently being used in the marketplace.
How do they work?
3D printing is a form of an additive printing technology where a three dimensional object is created by successive layers of material being laid down one on top of each other. A 3D printer consists of inkjet printer, an adhesive or binder and a fine powder. When the command to print a CAD model is given by the 3D software, the printer uses a slicing algorithm to break the information into small fragments. The printer then lays down successive layers of material to give the model its shape. The printer bed is then lowered by a fraction of a millimetre as new layers of powder are applied. The process is repeated until the model is ready and the material has set, at which stage any loose powder is blown away by airjets. Advanced 3D printing technologies have introduced 3D models that closely emulate the look, feel and functionality of the product prototypes.
3D Prototype printing is being used by a variety of industries for a number of different applications. These industries utilize 3D printers to produce architectural models, automotive prototypes, casings for medical and electronic devices, camera cases, initial parts for first run productions, parts for robots and prototype inventions of all sorts. On top of these commercial applications, new online companies, such as Shapeways.com, are bringing customized manufacturing to the masses by allowing consumers to submit digital designs of products that are then printed with 3D product prices typically selling for between $50 and $150. Another 3D printing company called Figureprints.com can recreate your favourite World of Warcraft character as a fully detailed 3D replica rivaling the beauty of any miniature figure ever made for $100 and up. Some sculptors use the technology to produce complex shapes for fine arts exhibitions. So opportunities abound everywhere!
3D Printer Options
Different manufacturers have different approaches to 3D printing technologies. Two leading companies, Z Corp and 3D Systems, offer a choice between powder and polymer as the material from which the object emerges. In either case, an inkjet printer creates the shape of the object, either by adding a glue to the powder, or by pumping out fine droplets of polymer that are then cured by an ultra-violet lamp.
Advantages of 3D Printers
In recent years, 3D printers have become financially accessible to small and medium sized business, thereby taking prototyping out of the heavy industry and into the office environment. Today’s smaller 3D printers can now easily be used in an office environment. These smaller office-sized 3D printers can make parts with a build size of 8”x10”x8” up to 10”x15”x8” and are easy to use and cheaper to maintain (compared to the older Rapid Prototyping (RP) machines). Both of these printers are used to verify a design, create a prototype, or make a one-off part or proof of concept, but now 3D printers make it a lot more affordable.
If you are looking to expand your revenue stream into a dynamic new market, then 3D printing might be worth a look for you. Add a 3D scanner and you will be able to reproduce real objects in just a few minutes. The real fun of 3D printing will come alive when ordinary consumers at home feel free to let their creativity run wild, and when 3D software programs will become more readily available to the general public. If you can imagine it, you can build it!