To say that 3D printing is an innovation is an understatement, it’s a technological wonder which will change our lives. Yes, I know this is the kind of tagline that average gadgets feature to make them sound more appealing to the customer, but in this case it’s the absolute truth. It speaks volumes if you find out about the most astonishing 3D printing creations without even looking for that information. It’s in your Facebook news, the newspapers, and on the TV. It’s simply unavoidable. If a Third Industrial Revolution was to be proclaimed, this technology would definitely lead the pack.
3D Printers Had Me Curious – Now They Have My Attention
When something is in your face this often, like it happens with 3D printing the next logical step is to dedicate your attention to it, even if it’s just to find out the basics of a 3D printer’s functionality. But before I develop further on how 3D printers actually work, I’ll start at the beginning and explain what 3D printing is and why should you care.
Just picture this scenario. Your dishwasher has a broken part now, let the odyssey of the replacement begin. The warranty expired last year, so you won’t get a new one for free. You call the service, they come to check your dishwasher, and they take the broken piece with them and possibly return it to you or give you a new one in two weeks for a fee. Sounds complicated, right? Imagine that with a 3D printer, you just print the replacement part in your own home, without any hassle!
Defining 3D Printing
3D printing or additive manufacturing is the technique of creating a three dimensional object through the placement of successive layers until its finalization. To understand how the layers come together, imagine a cake horizontally trimmed into several layers. You spread the chocolate filling to join the layers. The filling is to cakes what a bonding agent is to 3D printing.
Afterwards, you place the layers one over another just like your 3D printer does with the model, except the latter is obviously more accurate. 3D printing is, in fact similar to the standard 2D printing on a sheet of paper with the difference being that apart from the x-axis (horizontal axis) and y-axis (vertical axis) there is an additional one, the z-axis which represents the depth of a 3D object.
Choosing Your Weapon
From 3dprintednews.com – 3D printed Men In Black gun
Now that you know what 3D printing is, let’s get to the fun part and talk about how 3D printing really works, from the early stages of computer design to the actual printing. Both are fascinating in their own way. It’s like conceiving a baby (the design) and seeing him grow (the model). Everything starts with an idea which takes shape through a computer aided design.
A digital blueprint of the object soon to be printed is created. The software automatically creates sections which the 3D printer will interpret as layers. Basically, the CAD does the heavy lifting since the printer does what the software tells it to, exact shape and size included.
If designing isn’t really your strength, don’t worry since you can find ready 3D designs on various websites like Thingiverse and I wrote an in-depth article on where to get 3D object models which you might want to check out. Once the design is in the can, you transmit it to the 3D printer using a compatible file extension like .STL, .OBJ or .3DS and the data processing will initiate.
A Clockwork 3D Printer
Now comes the second part, which is the actual printing. After the finished design file is sent to the 3D printer, you have to choose a specific material for the magic to happen. Depending on the printer, it can be rubber, thermoplastics, metals or many others.
While not all printer processes function in the same way, it usually goes like this. The chosen material is squeezed or sprayed onto a platform. When the printer is ready to execute the command, a filament is pulled through a tube until it reaches an extruder. The extruder heats the material, passes it through a hole and places it on the printer’s plate.
Next up is the stage I wrote about earlier, which consists of depositing the material layers to conceive the finished product. But don’t be fooled even though I made the comparison with the cake, it’s not so simple here since the process can last for hours or even days, depending on the complexity and size of the project. Still, the good news is that you don’t have to get handy with it.
The printer knows what it’s doing! The standard layer thinness is 100 microns which equals 0.1 millimeters (= 0.0039 inches), but there are 3D printers capable of going even below that number with layers as thin as 16 microns. The layers are brought together into a single 3D model in DPI (dots-per-inch) resolution.
And there you have it! After brushing the debris off, your spanking new 3D print is ready to use. 3D printing is like the gift that keeps on giving. If you can design it, you can print it!
Still Not Good Enough?
If the process of 3D printing is still unclear to you or if you just want to see a 3D printer in action, here is a video which could very well be labeled as “3D printing for dummies” because it’s ridiculously easy to follow. Except I don’t consider my readers to be dummies but hey, I didn’t coin this term. The “lab rat” in this video is the MakerBot Replicator 2, which I even reviewed on this website, so this is also a good showcase of what this 3D printer can do.