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What is 3D printing and how does it work?

admin Jan 13,2014 5 Comments

3D printing

The 3D printing technology has improved tremendously in recent years. The process of 3D printing involves building objects by adding materials layer by layer in cross sections. The process, which is also referred to as “additive manufacturing” is a general process of rapid prototyping.


The common printers are not the same as the 3D printers; the objects on 3D printers are printed in three dimensions. In rapid prototyping process, a fine powder which may be in form of metal, plaster, epoxy, polyurethane and many others is applied in 3D inkjet printers. A layer of powder is printed on a bed that forms a fixed object.

3D printed Dress

3D printed Dress

The design for 3D printing is defined by a CAD file and the software makes it easier to customize the designs with an interface that is easy t use. The higher end models of the 3D printers can be used easily by anyone with minimal training.

3D printing create of solid objects from a digital 3D model. Most of these printers spray their materials through nozzles to ensure that the thermoplastic filament which is the base is laid down in layers. These layers create the final finished product.

Is 3D printing technology new?

No it is not! It has around for a long time but in manufacturing or industrial set ups. Now you can use 3D printers to create parts for your washing machine and even print shoes right at your home. The use of 3D printers for home use is certainly on the rise. Most printers will work with a variety of 3D modelling programs. Meaning you can now print 3D objects easily in in the comfort of your home. The applications are huge as you can 3D print toys, jewelry to architectural models and much more.

3D fashion

3D fashion



3 D Printed Examples

3D Printing Materials and Applications

Materials that can be used for 3D printing include ABS plastic, steel, wax, silver, nylon (polyamide), epoxy resins, polycarbonate, PLA, titanium, steel and photopolymers.

Medical Industry is one of the most important applications of 3D printers. The mock ups of parts of patients’ bodies to be operated upon by the surgeons can be produced by use of 3D printers. The work can be done in hours. No more flat screen for the developers and designers, it is now the exact part.

3D Printed Jaw Bone

3D Printed Jaw Bone

3D printers make it possible for almost everything to be built. Ranging from aerospace components to toys, fashion design, jewelry and art, architecture and interior design amongst others. The use of 3D printers is expanding rapidly and it is changing the way we design and build things.

3D Printing Methods

Even though 3D printers use additive method as a method of physically depositing materials, other most common approaches or methods that the 3D printers use include; Fused Deposition Modeling, Stereolithography, Selective Laser Sintering, and Powder Bed and Binder.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FMD)

It is one of the cheapest methods with limited use of materials. It is simple to use and office friendly. The process involves printing of the part by extruding molten stings of the material. They melt together after which the part is created. The thermoplastic material is heated and the parts are built in layers to a semi liquid state by the 3D printers that run on Fused Deposition Modeling Technology.

One good characteristic of the thermoplastic parts is the fact that they can withstand exposure to heat, humid or dry conditions, and even chemicals. Some of the examples include Dimension, Maker Bot, Cube, RepRap and many more.

Stereolithography or 3-D layering or 3-D printing

It consists of the following;

  • An ultra violet laser
  • A vat of photo curable liquid resin
  • A controlling system

It involves the use of resin; an ultraviolet laser is used to harden the resin in layers until the part is fully built creating high definition parts that can be machined.  One main limitation of this method is the high cost of resin making it to more expensive with respect to other 3D printers. You only need hours to create solid plastic three dimensional objects from CAD drawings; it certainly gives an easy and fast way of turning CAD drawings into real objects.

Some of the examples include; Instructables User RobHopeles’s Printer. This method creates highly accurate and long lasting objects at a relatively fair cost.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

The SLS has a part chamber that consists of a build platform, powder cartridge, and leveling roller. In the chamber tiny particles of glass, ceramic or plastic or other material are fused together by use of heat from a high powered laser. This leads to the formation of a three dimensional solid object. The parts are also built in layers and the main advantage with this method is the fact that it a wide variety of materials can be printed. One main example is the SinterStation.

Powder Bed and Binder

This method is more or less similar to the Laser Sintering. It involves the use of an inkjet that distributes binder to the correct location on a bed of powder. This technology can print in many colours. An example is ZCorp.

Benefits of 3D Printing

3D printing has great potential in enhancing people’s lives in many ways. It can print in more than one hundred different materials. The technology is currently widely used by big companies such as Nokia, eBay, Coca Cola and many others.

Some of the benefits of 3D printing include the following;

  • It increases innovation as it can print prototypes in hours. It ensures that the designs are perfect by first printing, obtaining feedback, refining designs and finally repeating the cycle until they are perfect.
  • It Speeds up time to market; it is indeed possible to compress design cycles by the many prototypes on demand. This is possible at home or right in your office
  • It reduces development costs; no more tooling and traditional prototyping costs. It is also possible to identify design errors and reduce the cost of travel and production
  • It is possible to personalize products such as pens. This will definitely increase the number of potential clients.
  • It improves communication; when you hold a real 3D model to convey information, sincerely it looks more realistic than a computer image

There is a great effort being made by the developers in the innovation of 3D printers. Many say that the 3D printing concept is logical and simple to understand. What is the difference between a normal printer and the 3D printers? Read through my next blog coming soon to get a comprehensive comparison.


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