Understanding 3D Printers

The idea of printing a 3D object from your home sounds like a crazy future invention but this technology actually exists today. 3D printing has the ability to revolutionize manufacturing and allow both businesses and individuals to design and produce products from home. However, for those unfamiliar with the process, they may be wondering how 3D printers work. The process varies depending on the type of printer, but it’s all based on the same process.


Original Design


3D printing is also known as additive manufacturing. It’s any process that involves making an object by depositing material a layer at a time. To get a better idea, think about additive manufacturing that takes place in rock formations. The dripping water in the caves forms stalagmites over a period of years. This basic idea was used to create 3D printing as we know it today.


Basic Process


No matter what printer or material you use, the same basic steps are used. The first step is having a 3D blueprint of what you want to make. A software program is used to create this blueprint and it can be used to create both large and small objects. The blueprint can even be used to create prosthetic limbs, musical instruments, and much more.


Once the blueprint is ready, the printer needs to be prepared. Each printer has raw materials which would be plastic for a plastic printer, metal powders for a metal computer, and binding solutions. Once the printer is ready to go, the blueprint is sent to the printer and the process begins.


The machine will take over the process and automatically build the desired object. Material extrusion is the process that is used in most cases. It can be seen working similarly to glue guns. With this process, the printing material, such as a plastic wire heats until it reaches a liquid form and then it flows through the nozzle. Using the information from the blueprint, the design is changed into thin two-dimensional cross-sections so that the printer knows where to put the material. The nozzle will deposit the plastic (which can be a number of different types of filaments)  in thin layers. since the material turns into a solid quickly, the build platform will lower and the print head will add another layer.


The time it takes to print an object depends on both the complexity and the size of the piece. Some may take only a few minutes while others can take days. After the process is finished, there are still additional steps. The object may need to be unstuck from the build platform or have the support structures removed. It may also require polishing as well. Usually these final steps are easy and take minimal time.


Next Steps


Although 3D printers tend to be fairly expensive and difficult to run by the average person, they are anticipated to grow in the coming years. It’s applications for the common person mean that anything broken or lost could be easily replaced by printing a new one. Possible areas of 3D printing include furniture that’s printed out at home, toys, and other homegoods. There are other industrial applications as well. Even medicine has an interest in 3D printing. It may someday be possible to “print” new organs, skin, or bones that could be tailored to meet a person’s specific needs.


Printing Limitations


Although this area is changing rapidly, not every object can be created using a 3D printer. One of the basic limitations is the cost. The cost per item is too high for the average person. Also, the printing does not have the smooth finish that industrial machines create and there is a limit in size, and variety of materials. For example, a machine has to be able to turn raw materials into a complete object. Plastic and metal which can be melted can be used in a printer but not all desired materials could be used in a printer.




This overview of 3D printing provides the basic information about how this process works. Keep in mind that there are new printers being developed constantly and it’s likely that the technology will change over time. Although not usually a good choice for the average person, it may someday be common for every home to have a printer.


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