How do 3D printers work?
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What Is 3D Printing and How It Works
Creating objects that are three-dimensional by adding layers of material using machines, one on top of another, seemed quite appealing a few years back. Usually, when you print from your computer, it is still perceived as two-dimensional printing by many people. Although many people have still no experience with three-dimensional printing, they are still familiar with the term 3D (three-dimensional) printing and know some of the necessary details of it. Today, many printing companies in Dubai are using 3D printing technologies. 3D printers have become more affordable and can be kept in homes, classrooms, and workplaces.
A manufacturing family, known as Additive Manufacturing, is used by 3D printing. It serves as the means of object creation by adding multiple layers of material. Additive manufacturing (AM) is the term established by ASTM International. In this article, we are about to explain to you what is three-dimensional printing and how it works.
What is 3D printing?
3D printing is a process invented in 1986 by Chuck Hull. This process involves transforming a digital 3D model into a finely printed 3D physical object. Chuck’s ideas are solely based on the process of fabrication called Stereolithography (SLA). Since then, many new 3D printing technologies have been developed, some of which are known as selective laser sintering (SLS), fused filament fabrication (FFF)/fused deposition modelling (FDM), polyjetting, etc. All of these depend on the fabrication process that involves layer by layer fabrication and also based on a computer code that is fed to your printer.
While there are a large number of 3D printing technologies that can be used for printing a 3D object, most of the 3D printers available in homes or workplaces are usually based on SLA, FFF, or FDM processes because these technologies are cost-effective and can be easily implemented within a machine.
The process of 3D printing can also be called additive manufacturing, especially when you are referring to its usage within a manufacturing setting. However, both phrases are used interchangeably.
How do 3D printers work?
To clearly understand how 3D printing works, one must understand various technologies that are involved in it. It is exactly like how engines work. All the engines follow similar principles as each other, but not all of those use solar power or gasoline. All 3D printers are not based on the same technology; however, they successfully accomplish identical basic tasks. Before diving deep into understanding technologies used by 3D printers, it is essential to learn the basic principles of transferring a 3D model available on a computer screen to a 3D printer.
Computers are different from humans; it is not like they would look at a 3D model and give a command to the printer to print. There is a broad involvement of many 1’s and 0’s, which means a lot of computer coding. Once a 3D design is created or downloaded from a repository, the file must be converted into G-code.
It is a numerical control language of computers which is mainly used for manufacturing, both additive and subtractive, aided by a computer. This language basically teaches a machine how to move. If there is G-code, the computer would not know where it is supposed to cure, sinter, or deposit a material during the process of fabrication. There are programs that are used to convert 3D model files into G-code. After the creation of G-code, it can be forwarded to the 3D printer as a blueprint that explains what several thousand further moves it must consist of. There are many computer languages out there, and many of them are expected to gain popularity with time, but for the time being, G-code plays an essential role and is considered very important.
What are some popular 3D printing technologies?
- Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)/Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)
It was invented by a guy names S. Scott Crump. It happened years after Chuck Hull invented three-dimensional printing. Crump attempted to commercialize this technology in 1990 through Stratasys. This is the reason why the same technology is sometimes referred to as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF). This technology is not that difficult to understand as it may sound. After all, 95% of desktop 3D printers are based on FFF/FDM.
A kind of thermoplastic such as ABS or PLA is inserted into an extruder and through a hotend. The plastic is then melted by hotend, converting it into a liquid that is gooey. After this, instructions are taken by the printer from the computer via G-code and the starts to deposit molten plastic in layers(one by one) until the whole object is fabricated. The plastic is rapidly melted, which provides a solid surface for depositing each layer.
- Stereolithography (SLA)
It was the very first technology which was invented in the year 1986. This technology is used much less than FDM/FFF and is overpriced. However, many patents of 3D systems have this technology, and they are about to expire in the coming years, no tremendous competition has been observed within the market.
This technology does not require performing material extruding out of a hotend. In the SLA process, laser or DLP projector is combined with photosensitive resin. The printed object is in a vat of resin, as a laser or any other source of lighting. The resin is hardened by the projector slowly, layer by layer, as the formation of the object, is completed.
- Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)/Selective Laser Melting (SLM)/Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
These three technologies are similar, yet have some differences. These terms are often used by many people interchangeably; however, they are not entirely identical. Both Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) are actually the same technology. The difference found in terminology is because of the materials used in them. Layer by layer sintering by using a laser beam and metal powders is what DMLS is known for. While in SLS, nonmetal substances are used, such as glass, ceramics, plastics, etc.
Both of them do not completely melt the substances. The materials are fused together or sintered at a molecular level. DMLS is actually considered ideal for metal alloys because molecules have different melting points. It means that it is difficult to achieve full melt sometimes.
On the other hand, SLM is ideal when dealing with metal substances that consist of one material such as titanium. The laser completely melts the molecules together. These processes are expensive and cannot be afforded by most individuals. Plus they also require high safety precautions because they involve usage of high power laser beams.
This technology was invented by Objet, an Israeli company that was recently merged with Stratasys in the year 2012. In PolyJetting, elements of both, Stereolithography and inkjet 2D, are involved. A liquid sensitive resin is sprayed by inkjet nozzles onto a platform precisely the way as ink is sprayed on paper in 2D printing. After this, a source of ultraviolet light is introduced to the substance which cures the material immediately, and the next layer is sprayed on top. The process keeps repeating until the object is entirely fabricated.
- Plaster Based 3D Printing (PP)
This process requires using two different substances. One is a powder substance (plaster, starch, gypsum) that is laid on a print bed and the second is binding ink that is ejected by a nozzle (which is similar to those used in inkjet printers) onto the powder so as to harden it.
Once a single layer of powder is completely bound, the additional powder is added via a rake-like instrument over the previous film, and the process is repeated until the entire object fabrication is completed. This technology was introduced in the early ’90s at MIT, after which it got commercialized in 1995 by Z Corporation.
Every year welcomes advancements and new technologies in 3D printing. Many technologies other than the above-mentioned processes are introduced and are paving their way towards popularity such as HP’S Jet Fusion and Carbon’s CLIP technology. In the coming years, surely there will be many more new technologies to enter the 3D printing industry, and people are already excited to see what more can be done with the help of technological advancement.
There you go! A short guide on 3D printing that might have helped you to understand what actually is 3D printing and why is it getting so popular. Of course, there are several thousand webpages that can provide you with more detailed information, but it is better to understand the basics first. After all, 3D printing is as exciting as it sounds, and knowing that there is still room for more advancements, is undoubtedly a good news!
3D printing brings your imagination to life. You no longer have to admire your 3D designs only by looking at your computer screens. You can now 3D print them and make them a part of reality. This technology is not levelling up creativity for designers but for children and adults too as they can now visualize concepts in a better way.