The world is changing rapidly and the idea of what is impossible changes every day. When one hears the word printing, paper and ink is likely the idea that comes to mind. However, in the world of printing today, printing goes beyond paper and ink.
3D printing deals with the building of three-dimensional objects using materials. Right now, as it stands, the field is relatively new and increasingly popular as well. For those who have no idea what it is and how it works, consider this article a crash course in 3D printing for beginners.
What Is 3D Printing?
3D printing simply put is an additive manufacturing process where materials are added layer after layer to produce a 3-dimensional object. The process is called additive because the object is built from scratch as against the traditional engineering process.
The traditional process would usually involve, cutting, drilling, etc. Hence, it is regarded as subtractive in comparison with 3D printing.
How Does 3D Printing Work?
You may be wondering if 3D printing is even printing in the first place. Well, technically, the answer is ‘yes’, 3D printing is printing but not in the traditional ink and paper way. However, the principles are somewhat very related.
Just like in regular printing, 3D printers use a plethora of technologies. However, the difference is the fact that unlike in regular printing, 3D printers use a wide variety of materials as unopposed to just ink. The printers themselves can create physical objects from digital files.
These digital files could be from 3D scanners, computer-aided design (CAD) or computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) program.
The most common technology used by 3D printers is what is called the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) or the Fused Filament Fabrication. Usually, it involves melting a filament made up of a thermoplastic and depositing it in layers using a hot extrusion nozzle.
Another one of the technologies used in 3D printing is the stereolithography. Here, an ultraviolet laser traces the object to be created on the surface of a sensitive photopolymer after it is shined into its vat. Whenever the beam touches the polymer, it solidifies. In the end, the beam produces the desired object layer after layer following the instructions in its CAD or CAM file.
Close but slightly different from stereolithography is the digital light projector (DLP). Liquid polymer (also called 3d printing resin) is exposed to a digital light processing projector. The light from the projector hardens the polymer layer after layer until the object has been built to finish.
MultiJet modeling works like the inkjet system. The system sprays a binder (glue) usually colored, into layers of powder in the area where the object is to be produced. The process is considered to be one of the fastest and one of a few that support colored printing.
History of 3D printing
Now that you know a little about how 3D printing works and how powerful a tool it can be, you might start to wonder how did it come to be,
Who Invented 3D Printing? Charles Hull invented the first 3D printer in 1984. The machine he created worked with stereolithography.
In 1992, a startup known as DTM developed the selective laser sintering (SLS) machine which works using the principle of the MultiJet modeling. In the same year, Charles’ company produced the stereolithographic apparatus (SLA) machine.
Both machines were able to produce complex parts and entire objects layer after layer in little or no time. The potential in 3D was huge and evident but it has its share of issues.
At the time, issues with 3D printing include the warping in the materials during hardening. Also, it was very expensive for people who are small scale manufacturers.
Moving forward, the big break in 3D printing arguably happened in the year 1999 when 3D printing body parts were first used. Scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine were able to produce a synthetic human bladder.
The bladder which was successfully implanted in a human being had little to no interactions with the immune system because it was covered with the cells of the patient.
This feat was a great achievement for the medical community as it brought in innovations in just 10 years. 3D printing body parts evolved in that decade with the production of functional kidneys, hearing aids, prosthetic legs, dental crowns, and many other amazing innovations.
Furthermore, between 1999 and 2009, 3D printing became open source, leading the way for more interesting innovations. Notable amongst them is Darwin, a 3D printer produced in 2008 which can reproduce itself.
What Is The Future Of 3D Printing?
As of today, 3D printing technology is not what it used to be. It has evolved and it is still growing into one of the largest industries in the world. Its applications are wide and encompassing in engineering, medicine, construction, and many other fields.
The issues which were once problems are no longer real problems. For instance, printers are now relatively affordable and manufacturers have many options of materials to select from as against just plastic in the past.
Looking into the future, NASA is experimenting out of space using 3D printers. Invariably in a couple of years, we could create life on Mars very soon or even other planets.
More interestingly, according to NASA, astronauts could fabricate essential parts as they would need since they would not have the opportunity of easily returning home from space. The Apollo 13 case easily comes to mind in this respect.
There is a lot to learn about 3D printers. We have come a long way. It is quite likely that we assume we can predict the future of 3D printing or maybe predict its applications. The truth, however, is that we might not correctly give predictions to its applications.
The potential of 3D printing is huge and it transcends our predictions as no one could have imagined it would go this far. One thing, however, is certain, in terms of manufacturing, 3D printing holds the key to the future.