3D printing is a fascinating technology which lets you produce three-dimensional objects from a virtual design created in your computer. Contrary to a traditional printing machine, a 3-D printer does not give you a fully assembled object coming out straight from the machine. Instead, the object is created from the required material – such as plastic – by assembling layers after layers. This process is also termed as additive manufacturing.
The Printing Process
The process of 3-D printing begins with a computer. A Computer Aided Design (CAD) software program is required for the creation of the design. Once a CAD file has been created, this step is followed by uploading the file to a 3-D modeling application. A 3-D scanner can also be used for this purpose which makes a three-dimensional digital copy of the design and then loads it to a 3-D modeling application program.
The next step involves the printing of the previously created 3-D digital copy. The 3-D modeling software performs the process of slicing up the object’s design into two-dimensional images which are thin layers. These layers are horizontal cross-sections of the object to be created. The 3-D printer analyses these two-dimensional images or layers and proceeds to flawlessly blend them together in order to create one solid object. As a result, the final object shows no noticeable signs of different layers joined together.
3D Printing Techniques
There are six different techniques which are being used for the purpose of manufacturing objects through the process of 3-D printing. These methods are:
This is one of the oldest 3D printing techniques. It involves the raw material being taken in the form of a liquid. The polymerized layers of liquids are solidified by UV light beams.
- Selective Laser Sintering
The starting raw material used to manufacture objects by Selective Laser Sintering technique may be plastic, ceramic, metal or glass. The particles of desired material are fused together by high power laser into a mass. This mass is then shaped into the required object.
- Digital Light Processing
Just like stereolithography, the Digital Light Processing method of 3D printing also begins with liquid raw material. This liquid is hardened little by little through exposure to a beam of light.
- Electronic Beam Melting
This technique is used for creating metal objects. The starting raw material is in the form of powder. The layering process takes place inside a vacuum where the metal powder is solidified through exposure to a beam of electrons. Upon cooling, this powder solidifies and the layers blend together. The resulting solid object is dense and possesses remarkable strength.
- Fused Deposition Modeling
An extrusion nozzle is used in this process which melts the raw material as it comes out. Computer aided controlling helps in moving the nozzle horizontally as well as vertically, upon exiting the nozzle, the material hardens instantly.
- Multi Jet Modeling
This is the fastest form of 3D printing. It involves spreading a layer of resin powder sprayed by colored glue to harden the resin. This technique is useful for colored printing.
3D printing is useful for both commercial as well as personal objectives. The evolving technology is expected to bring more techniques for faster, more economical and more convenient 3D printing in future.