The Science Behind 3D Printing

3D printing is pretty interesting in my opinion; it’s going to lead to a change in the way that we do things in a wide variety of industries. First off, what is 3D printing? 3D printing is a fascinating form of manufacturing technology in which almost any shape can be created out of a wide variety of materials. These materials range anywhere from ABS plastic, ceramics, glass filled nylon, rubber like material, wax casts, stainless steel, Inconel, cobalt chrome, silver, platinum, and even gold. There are tons of materials to choose from! In fact, over 60 materials exist in the world of 3D printing. Anyways, let’s jump back to the actual process of 3D printing. For this process to work, a design has to be created before anything can happen. This design will be the blueprint for the actual product itself. Various softwares can be used to create these computer files. Just a few to think about would be 3DS Max, Maya, Blender, Autodesk products, and Tinkercad. There are definitely other softwares that work in this 3D printing process.

Regardless, a design will be created from one of various softwares. This design will then be sent to a technician, or the operator that runs the 3D printer itself. This design will be plugged into the computer of the 3D printer, and it will manufacture the product in accordance to the design. Keep in mind, the technician will also have to choose the correct machine, lay out the files, and start the printer. Other than that, the printing process is pretty automated.

When the process starts, dependent on the style of 3D printing, a layer by layer process will begin. The printer will begin laying down layers of material to create the design. These layers of material can sometimes be a fraction of the diameter of a human hair. As in less than 20 microns! That’s a fraction of a millimeter! The detail levels can go very high in a variety of situations. Back to the actual process. The machine will take into account the dimensions and schematics of the design previously created, and it will bring it into existence, one layer at a time. Various processes involve shooting ultraviolet lights at liquid resins, laser melting powder, adhesive sprays on powder, and FDM printing. FDM printing is probably the most popular. This process involves shooting strands of plastic through a heated extruder. Think of a hot glue gun shooting out glue, where the hot part is the extruder, and the glue consists of various materials. The 3D printer will use a computer aided manufacturing (CAM) system to create products. This means that the computer within the machine will tell the extruder exactly where to go, and where to melt material.

This process will continue layer by layer until a final product emerges. Dependent on the style, there are some post production requirements in which the technician will have to clean the model. Some styles of 3D printing call for the technician to dust off excess powder, dip the piece into strong bonding chemicals like epoxy, or add various finishes. Well, basically, that’s the 3D printing process!