3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) is a manufacturing method in which a 3D printer is used to create a physical element of a digital model. Unlike traditional manufacturing processes, 3D printing creates the final object by layering material until the desired model is achieved.
Parts may be manufactured using a variety of ways in 3D printing. Let’s have a look at a few of these approaches. 3D printing introduces several key breakthroughs, the most notable of which is the ability to quickly construct complicated and unique shapes that were previously difficult, if not impossible, to achieve using traditional methods.
Although this manufacturing technique has been present since the 1980s, because of recent technical developments in the fields of 3d printers, raw materials, and software, it is now accessible to a far larger audience. Professional, inexpensive, and small 3D printers are now available on the market, accelerating innovation and supporting enterprises across a wide variety of industries, including medical, aerospace, automotive, and many more.
What is the process of 3D printing?
Every 3D printing process starts with a computer model, which may be created using a variety of CAD software, which is ideal for both professional and novice designers. The 3D model is “sliced” into layers once it has been designed, implying conversion to a file type that the printer can read and decode.
The printer then executes the design, layer by layer, to construct the required part. As a result, the printer’s behaviour differs depending on the printing procedure. Because each of these printing processes requires a separate technique and various raw materials, there is no “one size fits all” solution that can be used for all purposes.
There are printers that, for example, employ a heat source to melt/fuse the powdered raw material layer by layer.
Common 3D printing processes
There are a variety of standard printing methods available today; however, we will focus on a few that we believe are the easiest and cost-effective.
A coil of raw material (typically a form of plastic) is placed into the printer and fed to the printhead, which has a heated nozzle at the end of it. An electric motor pushes and advances the raw material through the nozzle, which dissolves it after the nozzle achieves the proper temperature.
The printer regulates the position of the print head along and across the print surface with the aid of extra electric motors, therefore putting a dissolved layer of the raw material in precisely the required location, where it cools and solidifies back. When one layer has solidified, the height of the printing surface drops, and the process of printing the next layer of material begins.
The part will be ready to use in the majority of situations after the printing process, but other circumstances will require additional processing, such as removing the supports formed during printing or smoothing the surface.
When it comes to producing bespoke thermoplastic components and prototypes, this printing method is one of the most cost-effective.
An ultraviolet (UV) light source is utilised in this printing method to harden the finished object layer by layer from a pool of liquid raw material (called resin). The light source in the SLA technique is a focussed laser beam that impacts the material.
It is required to clear the residue of the liquid raw material that clings and remains on the surface of the component after the printing process, as well as to expose the finished part to ultraviolet radiation to strengthen its strength.
Furthermore, the supports generated during printing must be removed, and if a specific level of surface quality is required, the subsequent processing section should be shifted till the desired texture is achieved.
This printing technology allows for the creation of components with great accuracy and complexity as well as a very smooth surface texture, making it ideal for prototypes with striking aesthetic elements and small batches of products.
SLS 3D printing – selective laser sintering – starts with a container filled with polymer powder (typically a form of nylon) being heated to a temperature just below its melting point. The powder is then applied in a thin layer (typically 0.1 mm thick) to the building surface within the printing chamber using a special roller or knife.
A concentrated laser beam now scans the spread powder layer, selectively heating and melting the powder particles and binding them together until the part’s cross-sectional area reaches the required value.
Once all of the planned cross-sectional areas have been attained, the construction platform drops slightly, and the raw material powder is spread across the construction surface once again, repeating the procedure until the required cross-sectional area has been produced.
The ultimate product is a printing compartment filled with raw material powder, with the finished portion covered with powder in the centre.
Today, a printing process called MJF – Multi jet fusion – is extremely similar to SLS in that it employs the same physical principles to melt raw material powder particles layer by layer utilising a heat source.
The heat source that melts the particles is the fundamental difference between MJF and SLS. If in SLS a focused laser beam is used to heat the powder, in MJF technology a type of ink is scattered on the desired incision area to increase the absorption capacity of infrared radiation (which is a heat source), and then an infrared radiation source is passed over the raw material powder to heat and melt the parts on which the ink is found.
The properties of components made with this technique are comparable to those of parts made with SLS technology.
In essence, 3D printing with this technique is fairly similar to ordinary ink printing. The key distinction is that, whereas a regular ink printer can print a single layer of ink on a sheet of paper, a PolyJet 3d printer can print numerous layers of material on top of each other until the final item is achieved.
The procedure is carried out using a large number of nozzles spraying droplets of photopolymeric material on the building surface at the same time. Because of the ultraviolet (UV) light that illuminates them from the time they escape the nostrils, these droplets quickly solidify into a coating of hard substance.
The building platform drops slightly downwards once the raw material layer has hardened, and the procedure is repeated until the final portion is achieved.
During the production of the part, it is always required to print auxiliary supports, even in this printing procedure. A water-soluble substance is typically employed in the fabrication of the auxiliary supports to enable easy and rapid removal following the printing process.
Among the technologies shown, PolyJet technology has the highest level of precision printing. It’s also one of the few technologies that can print things in multiple materials at the same time.
3D printing manufacturing is a rapidly expanding business with a lot of intriguing future possibilities. We’re barely scratching the surface of how 3D printed products can improve our lives simpler, more convenient, safer, and healthier. And, with 3D printing advancing at the same rate as individuals can come up with new designs to print, it won’t be long until we can 3D print our lunch, a custom-fitted blouse, or replacement parts to fix ordinary objects—all from the comfort of our own homes.