3D printing process diagram
The Free Beginner's Guide - 3D Printing Industry
Welcome to 3DPI”s Beginner’s Guide to 3D Printing. Whether you are new to 3D printing technology or just looking to close a few knowledge gaps, we’re glad you stopped by. By now, most of us have heard, at some level, about the potential of 3D printing. But with this guide we are offering insights into the history and the reality of 3D printing — the processes, materials and applications — as well as measured thoughts on where it might be heading. We hope you’ll find this to be one of the most comprehensive 3D printing resources available, and that no matter what your skill level is, there will be plenty in here to meet your needs.
Are you ready? Let’s get started !
01 - Basics
3D Printing — also known as additive manufacturing — has been quoted in the Financial Times and by other sources as potentially being larger than the Internet. Some believe this is true. Many others urge that this is part of the extraordinary hype that exists around this very exciting technology area. So what really is 3D printing, who generally uses 3D printers and what for ?
The term 3D printing covers a host of processes and technologies that offer a full spectrum of capabilities for the production of parts and products in different materials. Essentially, what all of the processes and technologies have in common is the manner in which production is carried out layer by layer in an additive process which is in contrast to traditional methods of production involving subtractive methods or moulding/casting processes. Applications of 3D printing are emerging almost by the day, and, as this technology continues to penetrate more widely and deeply across industrial, maker and consumer sectors, this is only set to increase. Most reputable commentators on this technology sector agree that, as of today, we are only just beginning to see the true potential of 3D printing. 3DPI, a reliable media source for 3D printing, brings you all of the latest news, views, process developments and applications as they emerge in this exciting field. This overview article aims to provide the 3DPI audience with a reliable backgrounder on 3D printing in terms of what it is (technologies, processes and materials), its history, application areas and benefits
Introduction – What is 3D printing ?
3D Printing is a process for making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many successive thin layers of a material. It brings a digital object (its CAD representation) into its physical form by adding layer by layer of materials.
There are several different techniques to 3D Print an object. We will go in further details later in the Guide. 3D Printing brings two fundamental innovations: the manipulation of objects in their digital format and the manufacturing of new shapes by addition of material.
Technology has affected recent human history probably more than any other field. Think of a light bulb, steam engine or, more latterly, cars and aeroplanes, not to mention the rise and rise of the world wide web. These technologies have made our lives better in many ways, opened up new avenues and possibilities, but usually it takes time, sometimes even decades, before the truly disruptive nature of the technology becomes apparent.
It is widely believed that 3D printing or additive manufacturing (AM) has the vast potential to become one of these technologies. 3D printing has now been covered across many television channels, in mainstream newspapers and across online resources. What really is this 3D printing that some have claimed will put an end to traditional manufacturing as we know it, revolutionize design and impose geopolitical, economic, social, demographic, environmental and security implications to our every day lives?
The most basic, differentiating principle behind 3D printing is that it is an additive manufacturing process. And this is indeed the key because 3D printing is a radically different manufacturing method based on advanced technology that builds up parts, additively, in layers at the sub mm scale. This is fundamentally different from any other existing traditional manufacturing techniques.
There are a number of limitations to traditional manufacturing, which has widely been based on human labour and made by hand ideology rooting back to the etymological origins of the French word for manufacturing itself. However, the world of manufacturing has changed, and automated processes such as machining, casting, forming and moulding are all (relatively) new, complex processes that require machines, computers and robot technology.
However, these technologies all demand subtracting material from a larger block whether to achieve the end product itself or to produce a tool for casting or moulding processes and this is a serious limitation within the overall manufacturing process.
For many applications traditional design and production processes impose a number of unacceptable constraints, including the expensive tooling as mentioned above, fixtures, and the need for assembly for complex parts. In addition, the subtractive manufacturing processes, such as machining, can result in up to 90% of the original block of material being wasted. In contrast, 3D printing is a process for creating objects directly, by adding material layer by layer in a variety of ways, depending on the technology used. Simplifying the ideology behind 3D printing, for anyone that is still trying to understand the concept (and there are many), it could be likened to the process of building something with Lego blocks automatically.
3D printing is an enabling technology that encourages and drives innovation with unprecedented design freedom while being a tool-less process that reduces prohibitive costs and lead times. Components can be designed specifically to avoid assembly requirements with intricate geometry and complex features created at no extra cost. 3D printing is also emerging as an energy-efficient technology that can provide environmental efficiencies in terms of both the manufacturing process itself, utilising up to 90% of standard materials, and throughout the products operating life, through lighter and stronger design.
In recent years, 3D printing has gone beyond being an industrial prototyping and manufacturing process as the technology has become more accessible to small companies and even individuals. Once the domain of huge, multi-national corporations due to the scale and economics of owning a 3D printer, smaller (less capable) 3D printers can now be acquired for under $1000.
This has opened up the technology to a much wider audience, and as the exponential adoption rate continues apace on all fronts, more and more systems, materials, applications, services and ancillaries are emerging.
02 - History
The earliest 3D printing technologies first became visible in the late 1980’s, at which time they were called Rapid Prototyping (RP) technologies. This is because the processes were originally conceived as a fast and more cost-effective method for creating prototypes for product development within industry. As an interesting aside, the very first patent application for RP technology was filed by a Dr Kodama, in Japan, in May 1980. Unfortunately for Dr Kodama, the full patent specification was subsequently not filed before the one year deadline after the application, which is particularly disastrous considering that he was a patent lawyer! In real terms, however, the origins of 3D printing can be traced back to 1986, when the first patent was issued for stereolithography apparatus (SLA). This patent belonged to one Charles (Chuck) Hull, who first invented his SLA machine in 1983. Hull went on to co-found 3D Systems Corporation — one of the largest and most prolific organizations operating in the 3D printing sector today.
3D Systems’ first commercial RP system, the SLA-1, was introduced in 1987 and following rigorous testing the first of these system was sold in 1988. As is fairly typical with new technology, while SLA can claim to be the first past the starting post, it was not the only RP technology in development at this time, for, in 1987, Carl Deckard, who was working at the University of Texas, filed a patent in the US for the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) RP process. This patent was issued in 1989 and SLS was later licensed to DTM Inc, which was later acquired by 3D Systems. 1989 was also the year that Scott Crump, a co-founder of Stratasys Inc. filed a patent for Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) — the proprietary technology that is still held by the company today, but is also the process used by many of the entry-level machines, based on the open source RepRap model, that are prolific today. The FDM patent was issued to Stratasys in 1992. In Europe, 1989 also saw the formation of EOS GmbH in Germany, founded by Hans Langer. After a dalliance with SL processes, EOS’ R&D focus was placed heavily on the laser sintering (LS) process, which has continued to go from strength to strength. Today, the EOS systems are recognized around the world for their quality output for industrial prototyping and production applications of 3D printing. EOS sold its first ‘Stereos’ system in 1990. The company’s direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) process resulted from an initial project with a division of Electrolux Finland, which was later acquired by EOS.
Other 3D printing technologies and processes were also emerging during these years, namely Ballistic Particle Manufacturing (BPM) originally patented by William Masters, Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM) originally patented by Michael Feygin, Solid Ground Curing (SGC) originally patented by Itzchak Pomerantz et al and ‘three dimensional printing’ (3DP) originally patented by Emanuel Sachs et al. And so the early nineties witnessed a growing number of competing companies in the RP market but only three of the originals remain today — 3D Systems, EOS and Stratasys.
Throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s a host of new technologies continued to be introduced, still focused wholly on industrial applications and while they were still largely processes for prototyping applications, R&D was also being conducted by the more advanced technology providers for specific tooling, casting and direct manufacturing applications. This saw the emergence of new terminology, namely Rapid Tooling (RT), Rapid Casting and Rapid Manufacturing (RM) respectively.
In terms of commercial operations, Sanders Prototype (later Solidscape) and ZCorporation were set up in 1996, Arcam was established in 1997, Objet Geometries launched in 1998, MCP Technologies (an established vacuum casting OEM) introduced the SLM technology in 2000, EnvisionTec was founded in 2002, ExOne was established in 2005 as a spin-off from the Extrude Hone Corporation and Sciaky Inc was pioneering its own additive process based on its proprietary electron beam welding technology. These companies all served to swell the ranks of Western companies operating across a global market. The terminology had also evolved with a proliferation of manufacturing applications and the accepted umbrella term for all of the processes was Additive Manufacturing (AM). Notably, there were many parallel developments taking place in the Eastern hemisphere. However, these technologies, while significant in themselves and enjoying some local success, did not really impact the global market at that time.
During the mid noughties, the sector started to show signs of distinct diversification with two specific areas of emphasis that are much more clearly defined today. First, there was the high end of 3D printing, still very expensive systems, which were geared towards part production for high value, highly engineered, complex parts. This is still ongoing — and growing — but the results are only now really starting to become visible in production applications across the aerospace, automotive, medical and fine jewellery sectors, as years of R&D and qualification are now paying off. A great deal still remains behind closed doors and/or under non-disclosure agreements (NDA). At the other end of the spectrum, some of the 3D printing system manufacturers were developing and advancing ‘concept modellers’, as they were called at the time. Specifically, these were 3D printers that kept the focus on improving concept development and functional prototyping, that were being developed specifically as office- and user-friendly, cost-effective systems. The prelude to today’s desktop machines. However, these systems were all still very much for industrial applications.
Looking back, this was really the calm before the storm.
At the lower end of the market — the 3D printers that today are seen as being in the mid range — a price war emerged together with incremental improvements in printing accuracy, speed and materials.
In 2007, the market saw the first system under $10,000 from 3D Systems, but this never quite hit the mark that it was supposed to. This was partly due to the system itself, but also other market influences. The holy grail at that time was to get a 3D printer under $5000 — this was seen by many industry insiders, users and commentators as the key to opening up 3D printing technology to a much wider audience. For much of that year, the arrival of the highly-anticipated Desktop Factory — which many predicted would be the fulfillment of that holy grail — was heralded as the one to watch. It came to nothing as the organization faltered in the run up to production. Desktop Factory and its leader, Cathy Lewis, were acquired, along with the IP, by 3D Systems in 2008 and all but vanished. As it turned out though, 2007 was actually the year that did mark the turning point for accessible 3D printing technology — even though few realized it at the time — as the RepRap phenomenon took root. Dr Bowyer conceived the RepRap concept of an open source, self-replicating 3D printer as early as 2004, and the seed was germinated in the following years with some heavy slog from his team at Bath, most notably Vik Oliver and Rhys Jones, who developed the concept through to working prototypes of a 3D printer using the deposition process. 2007 was the year the shoots started to show through and this embryonic, open source 3D printing movement started to gain visibility.
But it wasn’t until January 2009 that the first commercially available 3D printer – in kit form and based on the RepRap concept – was offered for sale. This was the BfB RapMan 3D printer. Closely followed by Makerbot Industries in April the same year, the founders of which were heavily involved in the development of RepRap until they departed from the Open Source philosophy following extensive investment. Since 2009, a host of similar deposition printers have emerged with marginal unique selling points (USPs) and they continue to do so. The interesting dichotomy here is that, while the RepRap phenomenon has given rise to a whole new sector of commercial, entry-level 3D printers, the ethos of the RepRap community is all about Open Source developments for 3D printing and keeping commercialization at bay.
2012 was the year that alternative 3D printing processes were introduced at the entry level of the market. The B9Creator (utilising DLP technology) came first in June, followed by the Form 1 (utilising stereolithography) in December. Both were launched via the funding site Kickstarter — and both enjoyed huge success.
As a result of the market divergence, significant advances at the industrial level with capabilities and applications, dramatic increase in awareness and uptake across a growing maker movement, 2012 was also the year that many different mainstream media channels picked up on the technology. 2013 was a year of significant growth and consolidation. One of the most notable moves was the acquisition of Makerbot by Stratasys.
Heralded as the 2nd, 3rd and, sometimes even, 4th Industrial Revolution by some, what cannot be denied is the impact that 3D printing is having on the industrial sector and the huge potential that 3D printing is demonstrating for the future of consumers. What shape that potential will take is still unfolding before us.
03 - Technology
The starting point for any 3D printing process is a 3D digital model, which can be created using a variety of 3D software programmes — in industry this is 3D CAD, for Makers and Consumers there are simpler, more accessible programmes available — or scanned with a 3D scanner. The model is then ‘sliced’ into layers, thereby converting the design into a file readable by the 3D printer. The material processed by the 3D printer is then layered according to the design and the process. As stated, there are a number of different types of 3D printing technologies, which process different materials in different ways to create the final object. Functional plastics, metals, ceramics and sand are, now, all routinely used for industrial prototyping and production applications. Research is also being conducted for 3D printing bio materials and different types of food. Generally speaking though, at the entry level of the market, materials are much more limited. Plastic is currently the only widely used material — usually ABS or PLA, but there are a growing number of alternatives, including Nylon. There is also a growing number of entry level machines that have been adapted for foodstuffs, such as sugar and chocolate.
How it Works
The different types of 3D printers each employ a different technology that processes different materials in different ways. It is important to understand that one of the most basic limitations of 3D printing — in terms of materials and applications — is that there is no ‘one solution fits all’. For example some 3D printers process powdered materials (nylon, plastic, ceramic, metal), which utilize a light/heat source to sinter/melt/fuse layers of the powder together in the defined shape. Others process polymer resin materials and again utilize a light/laser to solidify the resin in ultra thin layers. Jetting of fine droplets is another 3D printing process, reminiscent of 2D inkjet printing, but with superior materials to ink and a binder to fix the layers. Perhaps the most common and easily recognized process is deposition, and this is the process employed by the majority of entry-level 3D printers. This process extrudes plastics, commonly PLA or ABS, in filament form through a heated extruder to form layers and create the predetermined shape.
Because parts can be printed directly, it is possible to produce very detailed and intricate objects, often with functionality built in and negating the need for assembly.
However, another important point to stress is that none of the 3D printing processes come as plug and play options as of today. There are many steps prior to pressing print and more once the part comes off the printer — these are often overlooked. Apart from the realities of designing for 3D printing, which can be demanding, file preparation and conversion can also prove time-consuming and complicated, particularly for parts that demand intricate supports during the build process. However there are continual updates and upgrades of software for these functions and the situation is improving. Furthermore, once off the printer, many parts will need to undergo finishing operations. Support removal is an obvious one for processes that demand support, but others include sanding, lacquer, paint or other types of traditional finishing touches, which all typically need to be done by hand and require skill and/or time and patience.
04 - Processes
Stereolithography (SL) is widely recognized as the first 3D printing process; it was certainly the first to be commercialised. SL is a laser-based process that works with photopolymer resins, that react with the laser and cure to form a solid in a very precise way to produce very accurate parts. It is a complex process, but simply put, the photopolymer resin is held in a vat with a movable platform inside. A laser beam is directed in the X-Y axes across the surface of the resin according to the 3D data supplied to the machine (the . stl file), whereby the resin hardens precisely where the laser hits the surface. Once the layer is completed, the platform within the vat drops down by a fraction (in the Z axis) and the subsequent layer is traced out by the laser. This continues until the entire object is completed and the platform can be raised out of the vat for removal.
Because of the nature of the SL process, it requires support structures for some parts, specifically those with overhangs or undercuts. These structures need to be manually removed.
In terms of other post processing steps, many objects 3D printed using SL need to be cleaned and cured. Curing involves subjecting the part to intense light in an oven-like machine to fully harden the resin.
Stereolithography is generally accepted as being one of the most accurate 3D printing processes with excellent surface finish. However limiting factors include the post-processing steps required and the stability of the materials over time, which can become more brittle.
DLP — or digital light processing — is a similar process to stereolithography in that it is a 3D printing process that works with photopolymers. The major difference is the light source. DLP uses a more conventional light source, such as an arc lamp, with a liquid crystal display panel or a deformable mirror device (DMD), which is applied to the entire surface of the vat of photopolymer resin in a single pass, generally making it faster than SL.
Also like SL, DLP produces highly accurate parts with excellent resolution, but its similarities also include the same requirements for support structures and post-curing. However, one advantage of DLP over SL is that only a shallow vat of resin is required to facilitate the process, which generally results in less waste and lower running costs.
Laser Sintering / Laser Melting
Laser sintering and laser melting are interchangeable terms that refer to a laser based 3D printing process that works with powdered materials. The laser is traced across a powder bed of tightly compacted powdered material, according to the 3D data fed to the machine, in the X-Y axes. As the laser interacts with the surface of the powdered material it sinters, or fuses, the particles to each other forming a solid. As each layer is completed the powder bed drops incrementally and a roller smoothes the powder over the surface of the bed prior to the next pass of the laser for the subsequent layer to be formed and fused with the previous layer.
The build chamber is completely sealed as it is necessary to maintain a precise temperature during the process specific to the melting point of the powdered material of choice. Once finished, the entire powder bed is removed from the machine and the excess powder can be removed to leave the ‘printed’ parts. One of the key advantages of this process is that the powder bed serves as an in-process support structure for overhangs and undercuts, and therefore complex shapes that could not be manufactured in any other way are possible with this process.
However, on the downside, because of the high temperatures required for laser sintering, cooling times can be considerable. Furthermore, porosity has been an historical issue with this process, and while there have been significant improvements towards fully dense parts, some applications still necessitate infiltration with another material to improve mechanical characteristics.
Laser sintering can process plastic and metal materials, although metal sintering does require a much higher powered laser and higher in-process temperatures. Parts produced with this process are much stronger than with SL or DLP, although generally the surface finish and accuracy is not as good.
Extrusion / FDM / FFF
3D printing utilizing the extrusion of thermoplastic material is easily the most common — and recognizable — 3DP process. The most popular name for the process is Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), due to its longevity, however this is a trade name, registered by Stratasys, the company that originally developed it. Stratasys’ FDM technology has been around since the early 1990’s and today is an industrial grade 3D printing process. However, the proliferation of entry-level 3D printers that have emerged since 2009 largely utilize a similar process, generally referred to as Freeform Fabrication (FFF), but in a more basic form due to patents still held by Stratasys. The earliest RepRap machines and all subsequent evolutions — open source and commercial — employ extrusion methodology. However, following Stratasys’ patent infringement filing against Afiniathere is a question mark over how the entry-level end of the market will develop now, with all of the machines potentially in Stratasys’ firing line for patent infringements.
The process works by melting plastic filament that is deposited, via a heated extruder, a layer at a time, onto a build platform according to the 3D data supplied to the printer. Each layer hardens as it is deposited and bonds to the previous layer.
Stratasys has developed a range of proprietary industrial grade materials for its FDM process that are suitable for some production applications. At the entry-level end of the market, materials are more limited, but the range is growing. The most common materials for entry-level FFF 3D printers are ABS and PLA.
The FDM/FFF processes require support structures for any applications with overhanging geometries. For FDM, this entails a second, water-soluble material, which allows support structures to be relatively easily washed away, once the print is complete. Alternatively, breakaway support materials are also possible, which can be removed by manually snapping them off the part. Support structures, or lack thereof, have generally been a limitation of the entry level FFF 3D printers. However, as the systems have evolved and improved to incorporate dual extrusion heads, it has become less of an issue.
In terms of models produced, the FDM process from Stratasys is an accurate and reliable process that is relatively office/studio-friendly, although extensive post-processing can be required. At the entry-level, as would be expected, the FFF process produces much less accurate models, but things are constantly improving.
The process can be slow for some part geometries and layer-to-layer adhesion can be a problem, resulting in parts that are not watertight. Again, post-processing using Acetone can resolve these issues.
There are two 3D printing process that utilize a jetting technique.
Binder jetting: where the material being jetted is a binder, and is selectively sprayed into a powder bed of the part material to fuse it a layer at a time to create/print the required part. As is the case with other powder bed systems, once a layer is completed, the powder bed drops incrementally and a roller or blade smoothes the powder over the surface of the bed, prior to the next pass of the jet heads, with the binder for the subsequent layer to be formed and fused with the previous layer.
Advantages of this process, like with SLS, include the fact that the need for supports is negated because the powder bed itself provides this functionality. Furthermore, a range of different materials can be used, including ceramics and food. A further distinctive advantage of the process is the ability to easily add a full colour palette which can be added to the binder.
The parts resulting directly from the machine, however, are not as strong as with the sintering process and require post-processing to ensure durability.
Material jetting: a 3D printing process whereby the actual build materials (in liquid or molten state) are selectively jetted through multiple jet heads (with others simultaneously jetting support materials). However, the materials tend to be liquid photopolymers, which are cured with a pass of UV light as each layer is deposited.
The nature of this product allows for the simultaneous deposition of a range of materials, which means that a single part can be produced from multiple materials with different characteristics and properties. Material jetting is a very precise 3D printing method, producing accurate parts with a very smooth finish.
Selective Deposition Lamination (SDL)
SDL is a proprietary 3D printing process developed and manufactured by Mcor Technologies. There is a temptation to compare this process with the Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM) process developed by Helisys in the 1990’s due to similarities in layering and shaping paper to form the final part. However, that is where any similarity ends.
The SDL 3D printing process builds parts layer by layer using standard copier paper. Each new layer is fixed to the previous layer using an adhesive, which is applied selectively according to the 3D data supplied to the machine. This means that a much higher density of adhesive is deposited in the area that will become the part, and a much lower density of adhesive is applied in the surrounding area that will serve as the support, ensuring relatively easy “weeding,” or support removal.
After a new sheet of paper is fed into the 3D printer from the paper feed mechanism and placed on top of the selectively applied adhesive on the previous layer, the build plate is moved up to a heat plate and pressure is applied. This pressure ensures a positive bond between the two sheets of paper. The build plate then returns to the build height where an adjustable Tungsten carbide blade cuts one sheet of paper at a time, tracing the object outline to create the edges of the part. When this cutting sequence is complete, the 3D printer deposits the next layer of adhesive and so on until the part is complete.
SDL is one of the very few 3D printing processes that can produce full colour 3D printed parts, using a CYMK colour palette. And because the parts are standard paper, which require no post-processing, they are wholly safe and eco-friendly. Where the process is not able to compete favourably with other 3D printing processes is in the production of complex geometries and the build size is limited to the size of the feedstock.
The Electron Beam Melting 3D printing technique is a proprietary process developed by Swedish company Arcam. This metal printing method is very similar to the Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) process in terms of the formation of parts from metal powder. The key difference is the heat source, which, as the name suggests is an electron beam, rather than a laser, which necessitates that the procedure is carried out under vacuum conditions.
EBM has the capability of creating fully-dense parts in a variety of metal alloys, even to medical grade, and as a result the technique has been particularly successful for a range of production applications in the medical industry, particularly for implants. However, other hi-tech sectors such as aerospace and automotive have also looked to EBM technology for manufacturing fulfillment.
05 - Materials
The materials available for 3D printing have come a long way since the early days of the technology. There is now a wide variety of different material types, that are supplied in different states (powder, filament, pellets, granules, resin etc).
Specific materials are now generally developed for specific platforms performing dedicated applications (an example would be the dental sector) with material properties that more precisely suit the application.
However, there are now way too many proprietary materials from the many different 3D printer vendors to cover them all here. Instead, this article will look at the most popular types of material in a more generic way. And also a couple of materials that stand out.
Nylon, or Polyamide, is commonly used in powder form with the sintering process or in filament form with the FDM process. It is a strong, flexible and durable plastic material that has proved reliable for 3D printing. It is naturally white in colour but it can be coloured — pre- or post printing. This material can also be combined (in powder format) with powdered aluminium to produce another common 3D printing material for sintering — Alumide.
ABS is another common plastic used for 3D printing, and is widely used on the entry-level FDM 3D printers in filament form. It is a particularly strong plastic and comes in a wide range of colours. ABS can be bought in filament form from a number of non-propreitary sources, which is another reason why it is so popular.
PLA is a bio-degradable plastic material that has gained traction with 3D printing for this very reason. It can be utilized in resin format for DLP/SL processes as well as in filament form for the FDM process. It is offered in a variety of colours, including transparent, which has proven to be a useful option for some applications of 3D printing. However it is not as durable or as flexible as ABS.
LayWood is a specially developed 3D printing material for entry-level extrusion 3D printers. It comes in filament form and is a wood/polymer composite (also referred to as WPC).
A growing number of metals and metal composites are used for industrial grade 3D printing. Two of the most common are aluminium and cobalt derivatives.
One of the strongest and therefore most commonly used metals for 3D printing is Stainless Steel in powder form for the sintering/melting/EBM processes. It is naturally silver, but can be plated with other materials to give a gold or bronze effect.
In the last couple of years Gold and Silver have been added to the range of metal materials that can be 3D printed directly, with obvious applications across the jewellery sector. These are both very strong materials and are processed in powder form.
Titanium is one of the strongest possible metal materials and has been used for 3D printing industrial applications for some time. Supplied in powder form, it can be used for the sintering/melting/EBM processes.
Ceramics are a relatively new group of materials that can be used for 3D printing with various levels of success. The particular thing to note with these materials is that, post printing, the ceramic parts need to undergo the same processes as any ceramic part made using traditional methods of production — namely firing and glazing.
Standard A4 copier paper is a 3D printing material employed by the proprietary SDL process supplied by Mcor Technologies. The company operates a notably different business model to other 3D printing vendors, whereby the capital outlay for the machine is in the mid-range, but the emphasis is very much on an easily obtainable, cost-effective material supply, that can be bought locally. 3D printed models made with paper are safe, environmentally friendly, easily recyclable and require no post-processing.
There is a huge amount of research being conducted into the potential of 3D printing bio materials for a host of medical (and other) applications. Living tissue is being investigated at a number of leading institutions with a view to developing applications that include printing human organs for transplant, as well as external tissues for replacement body parts. Other research in this area is focused on developing food stuffs — meat being the prime example.
Experiments with extruders for 3D printing food substances has increased dramatically over the last couple of years. Chocolate is the most common (and desirable). There are also printers that work with sugar and some experiments with pasta and meat. Looking to the future, research is being undertaken, to utilize 3D printing technology to produce finely balanced whole meals.
And finally, one company that does have a unique (proprietary) material offering is Stratasys, with its digital materials for the Objet Connex 3D printing platform. This offering means that standard Objet 3D printing materials can be combined during the printing process — in various and specified concentrations — to form new materials with the required properties. Up to 140 different Digital Materials can be realized from combining the existing primary materials in different ways.
06 - Global Effects
Global Effects on Manufacturing
3D printing is already having an effect on the way that products are manufactured – the nature of the technology permits new ways of thinking in terms of the social, economic,environmental and security implications of the manufacturing process with universally favourable results.
One of the key factors behind this statement is that 3D printing has the potential to bring production closer to the end user and/or the consumer, thereby reducing the current supply chain restrictions. The customisation value of 3D printing and the ability to produce small production batches on demand is a sure way to engage consumers AND reduce or negate inventories and stock piling — something similar to how Amazon operates its business.
Shipping spare parts and products from one part of the world to the other could potentially become obsolete, as the spare parts might possibly be 3D printed on site. This could have a major impact on how businesses large and small, the military and consumers operate and interact on a global scale in the future. The ultimate aim for many is for consumers to operate their own 3D printer at home, or within their community, whereby digital designs of any (customizable) product are available for download via the internet, and can be sent to the printer, which is loaded with the correct material(s). Currently, there is some debate about whether this will ever come to pass, and even more rigorous debate about the time frame in which it may occur.
The wider adoption of 3D printing would likely cause re-invention of a number of already invented products, and, of course, an even bigger number of completely new products. Today previously impossible shapes and geometries can be created with a 3D printer, but the journey has really only just begun. 3D printing is believed by many to have very great potential to inject growth into innovation and bring back local manufacturing.
Potential Effects to the Global Economy
The use of 3D printing technology has potential effects on the global economy, if adopted world wide. The shift of production and distribution from the current model to a localized production based on-demand, on site, customized production model could potentially reduce the imbalance between export and import countries.
3D printing would have the potential to create new industries and completely new professions, such as those related to the production of 3D printers. There is an opportunity for professional services around 3D printing, ranging from new forms of product designers, printer operators, material suppliers all the way to intellectual property legal disputes and settlements. Piracy is a current concern related to 3D printing for many IP holders.
The effect of 3D printing on the developing world is a double-edged sword. One example of the positive effect is lowered manufacturing cost through recycled and other local materials, but the loss of manufacturing jobs could hit many developing countries severely, which would take time to overcome.
The developed world, would benefit perhaps the most from 3D printing, where the growing aged society and shift of age demographics has been a concern related to production and work force. Also the health benefits of the medical use of 3D printing would cater well for an aging western society.
07 - Benefits & Value
3D printing, whether at an industrial, local or personal level, brings a host of benefits that traditional methods of manufacture (or prototyping) simply cannot.
3D printing processes allow for mass customisation — the ability to personalize products according to individual needs and requirements. Even within the same build chamber, the nature of 3D printing means that numerous products can be manufactured at the same time according to the end-users requirements at no additional process cost.
The advent of 3D printing has seen a proliferation of products (designed in digital environments), which involve levels of complexity that simply could not be produced physically in any other way. While this advantage has been taken up by designers and artists to impressive visual effect, it has also made a significant impact on industrial applications, whereby applications are being developed to materialize complex components that are proving to be both lighter and stronger than their predecessors. Notable uses are emerging in the aerospace sector where these issues are of primary importance.
For industrial manufacturing, one of the most cost-, time- and labour-intensive stages of the product development process is the production of the tools. For low to medium volume applications, industrial 3D printing — or additive manufacturing — can eliminate the need for tool production and, therefore, the costs, lead times and labour associated with it. This is an extremely attractive proposition, that an increasing number or manufacturers are taking advantage of. Furthermore, because of the complexity advantages stated above, products and components can be designed specifically to avoid assembly requirements with intricate geometry and complex features further eliminating the labour and costs associated with assembly processes.
Sustainable / Environmentally Friendly
3D printing is also emerging as an energy-efficient technology that can provide environmental efficiencies in terms of both the manufacturing process itself, utilising up to 90% of standard materials, and, therefore, creating less waste, but also throughout an additively manufactured product’s operating life, by way of lighter and stronger design that imposes a reduced carbon footprint compared with traditionally manufactured products.
Furthermore, 3D printing is showing great promise in terms of fulfilling a local manufacturing model, whereby products are produced on demand in the place where they are needed — eliminating huge inventories and unsustainable logistics for shipping high volumes of products around the world.
08 - Applications
The origins of 3D printing in ‘Rapid Prototyping’ were founded on the principles of industrial prototyping as a means of speeding up the earliest stages of product development with a quick and straightforward way of producing prototypes that allows for multiple iterations of a product to arrive more quickly and efficiently at an optimum solution. This saves time and money at the outset of the entire product development process and ensures confidence ahead of production tooling.
Prototyping is still probably the largest, even though sometimes overlooked, application of 3D printing today.
The developments and improvements of the process and the materials, since the emergence of 3D printing for prototyping, saw the processes being taken up for applications further down the product development process chain. Tooling and casting applications were developed utilizing the advantages of the different processes. Again, these applications are increasingly being used and adopted across industrial sectors.
Similarly for final manufacturing operations, the improvements are continuing to facilitate uptake.
In terms of the industrial vertical markets that are benefitting greatly from industrial 3D printing across all of these broad spectrum applications, the following is a basic breakdown:
Medical and Dental
The medical sector is viewed as being one that was an early adopter of 3D printing, but also a sector with huge potential for growth, due to the customization and personalization capabilities of the technologies and the ability to improve people’s lives as the processes improve and materials are developed that meet medical grade standards.
3D printing technologies are being used for a host of different applications. In addition to making prototypes to support new product development for the medical and dental industries, the technologies are also utilized to make patterns for the downstream metal casting of dental crowns and in the manufacture of tools over which plastic is being vacuum formed to make dental aligners. The technology is also taken advantage of directly to manufacture both stock items, such as hip and knee implants, and bespoke patient-specific products, such as hearing aids, orthotic insoles for shoes, personalised prosthetics and one-off implants for patients suffering from diseases such as osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and cancer, along with accident and trauma victims. 3D printed surgical guides for specific operations are also an emerging application that is aiding surgeons in their work and patients in their recovery. Technology is also being developed for the 3D printing of skin, bone, tissue, pharmaceuticals and even human organs. However, these technologies remain largely decades away from commercialisation.
Like the medical sector, the aerospace sector was an early adopter of 3D printing technologies in their earliest forms for product development and prototyping. These companies, typically working in partnership with academic and research institutes, have been at the sharp end in terms or pushing the boundaries of the technologies for manufacturing applications.
Because of the critical nature of aircraft development, the R&D is demanding and strenuous, standards are critical and industrial grade 3D printing systems are put through their paces. Process and materials development have seen a number of key applications developed for the aerospace sector — and some non-critical parts are all-ready flying on aircraft.
High profile users include GE / Morris Technologies, Airbus / EADS, Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems and Boeing. While most of these companies do take a realistic approach in terms of what they are doing now with the technologies, and most of it is R&D, some do get quite bullish about the future.
Another general early adopter of Rapid Prototying technologies — the earliest incarnation of 3D printing — was the automotive sector. Many automotive companies — particularly at the cutting edge of motor sport and F1 — have followed a similar trajectory to the aerospace companies. First (and still) using the technologies for prototyping applications, but developing and adapting their manufacturing processes to incorporate the benefits of improved materials and end results for automotive parts.
Many automotive companies are now also looking at the potential of 3D printing to fulfill after sales functions in terms of production of spare/replacement parts, on demand, rather than holding huge inventories.
Traditionally, the design and manufacturing process for jewellery has always required high levels of expertise and knowledge involving specific disciplines that include fabrication, mould-making, casting, electroplating, forging, silver/gold smithing, stone-cutting, engraving and polishing. Each of these disciplines has evolved over many years and each requires technical knowledge when applied to jewellery manufacture. Just one example is investment casting — the origins of which can be traced back more than 4000 years.
For the jewellery sector, 3D printing has proved to be particularly disruptive. There is a great deal of interest — and uptake — based on how 3D printing can, and will, contribute to the further development of this industry. From new design freedoms enabled by 3D CAD and 3D printing, through improving traditional processes for jewellery production all the way to direct 3D printed production eliminating many of the traditional steps, 3D printing has had — and continues to have — a tremendous impact in this sector.
Art / Design / Sculpture
Artists and Sculptors are engaging with 3D printing in myriad of different ways to explore form and function in ways previously impossible. Whether purely to find new original expression or to learn from old masters this is a highly charged sector that is increasingly finding new ways of working with 3D printing and introducing the results to the world. There are numerous artists that have now made a name for themselves by working specifically with 3D modelling, 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies.
- Joshua Harker
- Jessica Rosenkrantz at Nervous System
- Pia Hinze
- Nick Ervinck
- Lionel Dean
- And many others.
The discipline of 3D scanning in conjunction with 3D printing also brings a new dimension to the art world, however, in that artists and students now have a proven methodology of reproducing the work of past masters and creating exact replicas of ancient (and more recent) sculptures for close study – works of art that they would otherwise never have been able to interact with in person. The work of Cosmo Wenman is particularly enlightening in this field.
Architectural models have long been a staple application of 3D printing processes, for producing accurate demonstration models of an architect’s vision. 3D printing offers a relatively fast, easy and economically viable method of producing detailed models directly from 3D CAD, BIM or other digital data that architects use. Many successful architectural firms, now commonly use 3D printing (in house or as a service) as a critical part of their workflow for increased innovation and improved communication.
More recently some visionary architects are looking to 3D printing as a direct construction method. Research is being conducted at a number of organizations on this front, most notably Loughborough University, Contour Crafting and Universe Architecture.
As 3D printing processes have improved in terms of resolution and more flexible materials, one industry, renowned for experimentation and outrageous statements, has come to the fore. We are of course talking about fashion!
3D printed accessories including shoes, head-pieces, hats and bags have all made their way on to global catwalks. And some even more visionary fashion designers have demonstrated the capabilities of the tech for haute couture — dresses, capes, full-length gowns and even some under wear have debuted at different fashion venues around the world.
Iris van Herpen should get a special mention as the leading pioneer in this vein. She has produced a number of collections — modelled on the catwalks of Paris and Milan — that incorporate 3D printing to blow up the ‘normal rules’ that no longer apply to fashion design. Many have followed, and continue to follow, in her footsteps, often with wholly original results.
Although a late-comer to the 3D printing party, food is one emerging application (and/or 3D printing material) that is getting people very excited and has the potential to truly take the technology into the mainstream. After all, we will all, always, need to eat! 3D printing is emerging as a new way of preparing and presenting food.
Initial forays into 3D printing food were with chocolate and sugar, and these developments have continued apace with specific 3D printers hitting the market. Some other early experiments with food including the 3D printing of “meat” at the cellular protein level. More recently pasta is another food group that is being researched for 3D printing food.
Looking to the future 3D printing is also being considered as a complete food preparation method and a way of balancing nutrients in a comprehensive and healthy way.
The holy grail for 3D printing vendors is consumer 3D printing. There is a widespread debate as to whether this is a feasible future. Currently, consumer uptake is low due to the accessibility issues that exist with entry level (consumer machines). There is headway being made in this direction by the larger 3D printing companies such as 3D Systems and Makerbot, as a subsidiary of Stratasys as they try to make the 3D printing process and the ancillary components (software, digital content etc) more accessible and user-friendly. There are currently three main ways that the person on the street can interact with 3D printing tech for consumer products:
- design + print
- choose + print
- choose + 3D printing service fulfillment
09 - Glossary
3DP 3D Printing
ABS Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene
AM Additive Manufacturing
CAD / CAM Computer-aided design / Computer-aided manufacturing
CAE Computer-aided engineering
DLP Digital Light Processing
DMD Direct Metal Deposition
DMLS Direct Metal Laser Sintering
EBM Electron Beam Melting
EVA Ethylene Vinyl Acetate
FDM Fused Deposition Modelling (Trademark of Stratasys)
FFF Freeform Fabrication
LENS Laser Engineering Net-Shaping (Trademark of SNL, licensed to Optomec)
LS Laser Sintering
PLA Polylactic Acid
RE Reverse Engineering
RM Rapid Manufacturing
RP Rapid Prototyping
RT Rapid Tooling
SLA Stereolithography Apparatus (Registered Trademark of 3D Systems)
SLM Selective Laser Melting
SLS Selective Laser Sintering (Registered Trademark of 3D Systems)
STL / . stl Stereo Lithograpic
What is 3D printing? How does a 3D printer work? Learn 3D printing
3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file.
The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced cross-section of the object.
3D printing is the opposite of subtractive manufacturing which is cutting out / hollowing out a piece of metal or plastic with for instance a milling machine.
3D printing enables you to produce complex shapes using less material than traditional manufacturing methods.
Table of Contents
- How Does 3D Printing Work?
- 3D Printing Industry
- Examples of 3D Printing
- 3D Printing Technologies & Processes
Jump to your field of interest:
- Rapid Prototyping & Manufacturing
- Consumer Products
Jump to process:
- All Technologies & Processes
- Vat Photopolymerisation
- Material Jetting
- Binder Jetting
- Material Extrusion
- Powder Bed Fusion
- Sheet Lamination
- Directed Energy Deposition
How Does 3D Printing Work?
It all starts with a 3D model. You can opt to create one from the ground up or download it from a 3D library.
There are many different software tools available. From industrial grade to open source. We’ve created an overview on our 3D software page.
We often recommend beginners to start with Tinkercad. Tinkercad is free and works in your browser, you don’t have to install it on your computer. Tinkercad offers beginner lessons and has a built-in feature to export your model as a printable file e.g .STL or .OBJ.
Now that you have a printable file, the next step is to prepare it for your 3D printer. This is called slicing.
Slicing: From printable file to 3D Printer
Slicing basically means slicing up a 3D model into hundreds or thousands of layers and is done with slicing software.
When your file is sliced, it’s ready for your 3D printer. Feeding the file to your printer can be done via USB, SD or Wi-Fi. Your sliced file is now ready to be 3D printed layer by layer.
3D Printing Industry
Adoption of 3D printing has reached critical mass as those who have yet to integrate additive manufacturing somewhere in their supply chain are now part of an ever-shrinking minority. Where 3D printing was only suitable for prototyping and one-off manufacturing in the early stages, it is now rapidly transforming into a production technology.
Most of the current demand for 3D printing is industrial in nature. Acumen Research and Consulting forecasts the global 3D printing market to reach $41 billion by 2026.
As it evolves, 3D printing technology is destined to transform almost every major industry and change the way we live, work, and play in the future.
Examples of 3D Printing
3D printing encompasses many forms of technologies and materials as 3D printing is being used in almost all industries you could think of. It’s important to see it as a cluster of diverse industries with a myriad of different applications.
A few examples:
- – consumer products (eyewear, footwear, design, furniture)
- – industrial products (manufacturing tools, prototypes, functional end-use parts)
- – dental products
- – prosthetics
- – architectural scale models & maquettes
- – reconstructing fossils
- – replicating ancient artefacts
- – reconstructing evidence in forensic pathology
- – movie props
Rapid Prototyping & Rapid Manufacturing
Companies have used 3D printers in their design process to create prototypes since the late seventies. Using 3D printers for these purposes is called rapid prototyping.
Why use 3D Printers for Rapid Prototyping?
In short: it’s fast and relatively cheap. From idea, to 3D model to holding a prototype in your hands is a matter of days instead of weeks. Iterations are easier and cheaper to make and you don’t need expensive molds or tools.
Besides rapid prototyping, 3D printing is also used for rapid manufacturing. Rapid manufacturing is a new method of manufacturing where businesses use 3D printers for short run / small batch custom manufacturing.
Car manufacturers have been utilizing 3D printing for a long time. Automotive companies are printing spare parts, tools, jigs and fixtures but also end-use parts. 3D printing has enabled on-demand manufacturing which has lead to lower stock levels and has shortened design and production cycles.
Automotive enthusiasts all over the world are using 3D printed parts to restore old cars. One such example is when Australian engineers printed parts to bring a Delage Type-C back to life. In doing so, they had to print parts that were out of production for decades.
The aviation industry uses 3D printing in many different ways. The following example marks a significant 3D printing manufacturing milestone: GE Aviation has 3D printed 30,000 Cobalt-chrome fuel nozzles for its LEAP aircraft engines. They achieved that milestone in October of 2018, and considering that they produce 600 per week on forty 3D printers, it’s likely much higher than that now.
Around twenty individual parts that previously had to be welded together were consolidated into one 3D printed component that weighs 25% less and is five times stronger. The LEAP engine is the best selling engine in the aerospace industry due to its high level of efficiency and GE saves $3 million per aircraft by 3D printing the fuel nozzles, so this single 3D printed part generates hundreds of millions of dollars of financial benefit.
GE’s fuel nozzles also made their way into the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, but it’s not the only 3D printed part in the 787. The 33-centimeter-long structural fittings that hold the aft kitchen galley to the airframe are 3D printed by a company called Norsk Titanium. Norsk chose to specialize in titanium because it has a very high strength-to-weight ratio and is rather expensive, meaning the reduction in waste enabled by 3D printing has a more significant financial impact than compared to cheaper metals where the costs of material waste are easier to absorb. Rather than sintering metal powder with a laser like most metal 3D printers, the Norsk Merke 4 uses a plasma arc to melt a metal wire in a process called Rapid Plasma Deposition (a form of Directed Energy Deposition) that can deposit up to 10kg of titanium per hour. A 2kg titanium part would generally require a 30kg block of titanium to machine it from, generating 28kg of waste, but 3D printing the same part requires only 6kg of titanium wire.
Is it possible to print a building? – yes it is. 3D printed houses are already commercially available. Some companies print parts prefab and others do it on-site.
Most of the concrete printing stories we look at on this website are focused on large scale concrete printing systems with fairly large nozzles for a large flow rate. It’s great for laying down concrete layers in a fairly quick and repeatable manner. But for truly intricate concrete work that makes full use of the capabilities of 3D printing requires something a little more nimble, and with a finer touch.
When we first started blogging about 3D printing back in 2011, 3D printing wasn’t ready to be used as a production method for large volumes. Nowadays there are numerous examples of end-use 3D printed consumer products.
Adidas’ 4D range has a fully 3D printed midsole and is being printed in large volumes. We did an article back then, explaining how Adidas were initially releasing just 5,000 pairs of the shoes to the public, and had aimed to sell 100,000 pairs of the AM-infused designs by 2018.
With their latest iterations of the shoe, it seems that they have surpassed that goal, or are on their way to surpassing it. The shoes are available all around the world from local Adidas stores and also from various 3rd party online outlets.
The market of 3D printed eyewear is forecasted to reach $3.4 billion by 2028. A rapidly increasing section is that of end-use frames. 3D printing is a particularly suitable production method for eyewear frames because the measurements of an individual are easy to process in the end product.
But did you know it’s also possible to 3D print lenses? Traditional glass lenses don’t start out thin and light; they’re cut from a much larger block of material called a blank, about 80% of which goes to waste. When we consider how many people wear glasses and how often they need to get a new pair, 80% of those numbers is a lot of waste. On top of that, labs have to keep huge inventories of blanks to meet the custom vision needs of their clients. Finally, however, 3D printing technology has advanced enough to provide high-quality, custom ophthalmic lenses, doing away with the waste and inventory costs of the past. The Luxexcel VisionEngine 3D printer uses a UV-curable acrylate monomer to print two pairs of lenses per hour that require no polishing or post-processing of any kind. The focal areas can also be completely customized so that a certain area of the lens can provide better clarity at a distance while a different area of the lens provides better vision up close.
There are two ways of producing jewelry with a 3D printer. You can either use a direct or indirect production process. Direct refers to the creation of an object straight from the 3D design while indirect manufacturing means that the object (pattern) that is 3D printed eventually is used to create a mold for investment casting.
It’s not uncommon these days to see headlines about 3D printed implants. Often, those cases are experimental, which can make it seem like 3D printing is still a fringe technology in the medical and healthcare sectors, but that’s not the case anymore. Over the last decade, more than 100,000 hip replacements have been 3D printed by GE Additive.
The Delta-TT Cup designed by Dr. Guido Grappiolo and LimaCorporate is made of Trabecular Titanium, which is characterized by a regular, three-dimensional, hexagonal cell structure that imitates trabecular bone morphology. The trabecular structure increases the biocompatibility of the titanium by encouraging bone growth into the implant. Some of the first Delta-TT implants are still running strong over a decade later.
Another 3D printed healthcare component that does a good job of being undetectable is the hearing aid. Nearly every hearing aid in the last 17 years has been 3D printed thanks to a collaboration between Materialise and Phonak. Phonak developed Rapid Shell Modeling (RSM) in 2001. Prior to RSM, making one hearing aid required nine laborious steps involving hand sculpting and mold making, and the results were often ill-fitting. With RSM, a technician uses silicone to take an impression of the ear canal, that impression is 3D scanned, and after some minor tweaking the model is 3D printed with a resin 3D printer. The electronics are added and then it’s shipped to the user. Using this process, hundreds of thousands of hearing aids are 3D printed each year.
In the dental industry, we see molds for clear aligners being possibly the most 3D printed objects in the world. Currently, the molds are 3D printed with both resin and powder based 3D printing processes, but also via material jetting. Crowns and dentures are already directly 3D printed, along with surgical guides.
As of the early two-thousands 3D printing technology has been studied by biotech firms and academia for possible use in tissue engineering applications where organs and body parts are built using inkjet techniques. Layers of living cells are deposited onto a gel medium and slowly built up to form three dimensional structures. We refer to this field of research with the term: bio-printing.
Additive manufacturing invaded the food industry long time ago. Restaurants like Food Ink and Melisse use this as a unique selling point to attract customers from across the world.
Educators and students have long been using 3D printers in the classroom. 3D printing enables students to materialize their ideas in a fast and affordable way.
While additive manufacturing-specific degrees are fairly new, universities have long been using 3D printers in other disciplines. There are many educational courses one can take to engage with 3D printing. Universities offer courses on things that are adjacent to 3D printing like CAD and 3D design, which can be applied to 3D printing at a certain stage.
In terms of prototyping, many university programs are turning to printers. There are specializations in additive manufacturing one can attain through architecture or industrial design degrees. Printed prototypes are also very common in the arts, animation and fashion studies as well.
Types of 3D Printing Technologies and Processes
The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), developed a set of standards that classify additive manufacturing processes into 7 categories. These are:
- Vat Photopolymerisation
- Stereolithography (SLA)
- Digital Light Processing (DLP)
- Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP)
- Material Jetting
- Binder Jetting
- Material Extrusion
- Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
- Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)
- Powder Bed Fusion
- Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)
- Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
- Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
- Sheet Lamination
- Directed Energy Deposition
A 3D printer based on the Vat Photopolymerisation method has a container filled with photopolymer resin. The resin is hardened with a UV light source.Vat photopolymerisation schematics. Image source: lboro.ac.uk
SLA was invented in 1986 by Charles Hull, who also at the time founded the company, 3D Systems. Stereolithography employs a vat of liquid curable photopolymer resin and an ultraviolet laser to build the object’s layers one at a time. For each layer, the laser beam traces a cross-section of the part pattern on the surface of the liquid resin. Exposure to the ultraviolet laser light cures and solidifies the pattern traced on the resin and fuses it to the layer below.
After the pattern has been traced, the SLA’s elevator platform descends by a distance equal to the thickness of a single layer, typically 0.05 mm to 0.15 mm (0.002″ to 0.006″). Then, a resin-filled blade sweeps across the cross section of the part, re-coating it with fresh material. On this new liquid surface, the subsequent layer pattern is traced, joining the previous layer. Depending on the object & print orientation, SLA often requires the use of support structures.
Digital Light Processing (DLP)
DLP or Digital Light Processing refers to a method of printing that makes use of light and photosensitive polymers. While it is very similar to SLA, the key difference is the light source. DLP utilizes other light sources like arc lamps. DLP is relatively quick compared to other 3D printing technologies.
Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP)
One of the fastest processes using Vat Photopolymerisation is called CLIP, short for Continuous Liquid Interface Production, developed by Carbon.
Digital Light Synthesis
The heart of the CLIP process is Digital Light Synthesis technology. In this technology, light from a custom high performance LED light engine projects a sequence of UV images exposing a cross section of the 3D printed part causing the UV curable resin to partially cure in a precisely controlled way. Oxygen passes through the oxygen permeable window creating a thin liquid interface of uncured resin between the window and the printed part known as the dead zone. The dead zone is as thin as ten of microns. Inside the dead zone, oxygen prohibits light from curing the resin situated closest to the window therefore allowing the continuous flow of liquid beneath the printed part. Just above the dead zone the UV projected light upwards causes a cascade like curing of the part.
Simply printing with Carbon’s hardware alone does not allow for end use properties with real world applications. Once the light has shaped the part, a second programmable curing process achieves the desired mechanical properties by baking the 3d printed part in a thermal bath or oven. Programmed thermal curing sets the mechanical properties by triggering a secondary chemical reaction causing the material to strengthen achieving the desired final properties.
Components printed with Carbon’s technology are on par with injection molded parts. Digital Light Synthesis produces consistent and predictable mechanical properties, creating parts that are truly isotropic.
In this process, material is applied in droplets through a small diameter nozzle, similar to the way a common inkjet paper printer works, but it is applied layer-by-layer to a build platform and then hardened by UV light.Material Jetting schematics. Image source: custompartnet.com
With binder jetting two materials are used: powder base material and a liquid binder. In the build chamber, powder is spread in equal layers and binder is applied through jet nozzles that “glue” the powder particles in the required shape. After the print is finished, the remaining powder is cleaned off which often can be re-used printing the next object. This technology was first developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1993.Binder Jetting schematics
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)FDM schematics (Image credit: Wikipedia, made by user Zureks)
FDM works using a plastic filament which is unwound from a spool and is supplied to an extrusion nozzle which can turn the flow on and off. The nozzle is heated to melt the material and can be moved in both horizontal and vertical directions by a numerically controlled mechanism. The object is produced by extruding melted material to form layers as the material hardens immediately after extrusion from the nozzle.
FDM was invented by Scott Crump in the late 80’s. After patenting this technology he started the company Stratasys in 1988. The term Fused Deposition Modeling and its abbreviation to FDM are trademarked by Stratasys Inc.
Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)
The exactly equivalent term, Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), was coined by the members of the RepRap project to give a phrase that would be legally unconstrained in its use.
Powder Bed Fusion
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
SLS uses a high power laser to fuse small particles of powder into a mass that has the desired three dimensional shape. The laser selectively fuses powder by first scanning the cross-sections (or layers) on the surface of a powder bed. After each cross-section is scanned, the powder bed is lowered by one layer thickness. Then a new layer of material is applied on top and the process is repeated until the object is completed.SLS schematics (Image credit: Wikipedia from user Materialgeeza)
Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)
Multi Jet Fusion technology was developed by Hewlett Packard and works with a sweeping arm which deposits a layer of powder and then another arm equipped with inkjets which selectively applies a binder agent over the material. The inkjets also deposit a detailing agent around the binder to ensure precise dimensionality and smooth surfaces. Finally, the layer is exposed to a burst of thermal energy that causes the agents to react.
Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
DMLS is basically the same as SLS, but uses metal powder instead. All unused powder remains as it is and becomes a support structure for the object. Unused powder can be re-used for the next print.
Due to of increased laser power, DMLS has evolved into a laser melting process. Read more about that and other metal technologies on our metal technologies overview page.
Sheet lamination involves material in sheets which is bound together with external force. Sheets can be metal, paper or a form of polymer. Metal sheets are welded together by ultrasonic welding in layers and then CNC milled into a proper shape. Paper sheets can be used also, but they are glued by adhesive glue and cut in shape by precise blades.Simplified schematics of ultrasonic sheet metal process (Image credit: Wikipedia from user Mmrjf3)
Directed Energy Deposition
This process is mostly used in the metal industry and in rapid manufacturing applications. The 3D printing apparatus is usually attached to a multi-axis robotic arm and consists of a nozzle that deposits metal powder or wire on a surface and an energy source (laser, electron beam or plasma arc) that melts it, forming a solid object.Directed Energy Deposition with metal powder and laser melting (Image credit: Merlin project)
Multiple materials can be used in additive manufacturing: plastics, metals, concrete, ceramics, paper and certain edibles (e.g. chocolate). Materials are often produced in wire feedstock a.k.a. filament, powder form or liquid resin. Learn more about our featured materials on our materials page.
Looking to implement 3D printing in your production process? Get a quote for a custom part or order samples on our 3D print service page.
SLA Technology. How SLA 3D printing works.
Hello everyone, 3DTool is with you!
Today we will look at the basic principles of technology SLA . After reading this article, you will understand the main points of the printing process using this technology, the advantages and disadvantages of this method 3D printing .
On our website, you can find a list of 3D printers working on SLA technology, at this link: Catalog of 3D printers printing on SLA / DLP technology
Technology 3 D printing SLA
Stereolithography (SLA) is an additive manufacturing process that achieves the result by means of resin polymerization. In SLA printing, the object is created by selectively curing a polymer resin, layer by layer, using an ultraviolet (UV) laser beam. The materials used in SLA printing are photosensitive thermoset polymers that are available in liquid form.
SLA is known as the first 3D printing technology : its inventor patented this technology back in 1986 . When you need to print parts with very high precision or a smooth surface, the SLA comes to the rescue. In this case, it is the most cost-effective and efficient technology 3D printing . The best results can be achieved only if the operator of the equipment on which the printing process takes place is familiar with the technology and some of the nuances. That is, he has the necessary qualifications.
SLA shares many characteristics with Direct Light Processing (DLP ), another photopolymerization technology. For simplicity, both technologies can be considered equal.
SLA printing process
1) 2) 3)
1) A platform is placed in the tank with liquid photopolymer, at the same height from the resin surface.
2) The UV laser then selectively cures the required areas of the photopolymer resin according to a predetermined algorithm.
The laser beam is focused on a given path using a set of mirrors called galvos. Then the entire cross-sectional area of the model is illuminated. Therefore, the resulting part is completely solid.
3) When one layer is finished, the platform moves to a safe distance and the mixing foot inside the tub mixes the resin.
This process is repeated until the part is printed. After printing, the part is not fully cured and requires further post-processing under the UV lamp . At the end of UV illumination, the part acquires very high mechanical and thermal properties.
The liquid resin solidifies through a process called photopolymerization: during solidification, the monomer carbon chains that make up the liquid resin are activated by an ultraviolet laser and become solid, creating strong, inextricable bonds with each other.
The photopolymerization process is irreversible, and there is no way to convert the resulting parts back into a liquid state. When heated, they will burn, not melt. This is because the materials that are produced by SLA technology are made from thermoset polymers, as opposed to the thermoplastics that FDM uses.
Operation scheme SLA printer
Specifications SLA printer
On SLA systems, most print settings are set by the manufacturer and cannot be changed. The only inputs are the layer height and the part orientation ( last, locates the supports ).
The typical layer height in a SLA print ranges from 25 to 100 micron .
The lower the layer height, the more accurately the complex geometry of the model will be printed, but at the same time the printing time and the likelihood of failure will increase. A layer height of 100 microns is suitable for most common geometries and is the golden mean.
Another important parameter for the operator is the size of the platform. It depends on the type of SLA printer. There are two main types: orientation top to bottom and orientation from bottom to top .
In the first case, the laser is above the tank, and the part is face up. The platform sits at the very top of the resin vat and moves down after each layer is sintered.
Schematic SLA top-down printer
In " bottom up " layout on SLA printers , the light source is placed under the resin tank (see picture above) , and the part is built upside down.
The tank has a transparent bottom with a silicone coating that allows the beam of light to pass through but prevents the cured resin from sticking. After each layer, the cured resin separates from the bottom of the tank as the platform moves up. This is called the sintering step.
Schematic SLA bottom-up printer
The orientation " bottom to top " is mostly used in desktop printers like Formlabs. The " top - down " orientation is used in the industrial SLA printer .
Printers SLA " bottom-up " are easier to manufacture and operate, but the size of the possible print will be smaller, since the forces applied to the part during the sintering stage can cause printing to fail.
Top-down printers, on the other hand, can print very large parts without much loss in accuracy. The wide possibilities of such systems naturally cost more.
The following are the main characteristics and differences between the two orientations:
"Top down "
Wide market availability
Small platform size
Smaller range of materials
Requires additional post-processing due to extensive
use of supports
Printable area: Up to 145 x 145 x 175 mm
Typical layer height and print accuracy: 25 to 100 µm and ± 0. 5% (lower limit: ± 0.010 to 0.250 mm) respectively
Very large platform
Faster Print Time
Qualified operator required
Material change involves emptying the entire tank
Print area size: Up to 1500 x 750 x 500 mm
Typical layer height and print accuracy: 25 to 150 µm and ± 0.15% (lower limit ± 0.010 to 0.030 mm) respectively
Support during printing 3 D
Supports are always required at Print SLA . Structural structures are printed from the same material as the part and must be manually removed after printing.
Part orientation determines the location and amount of supports. It is recommended that the part be oriented so that surfaces that require maximum quality do not come into contact with supports.
In different types of SLA printers, support is used in different ways:
For top - down printers , support requirements are the same as FDM . They are essential for accurate printing of overhangs and bridges ( the critical overhang angle is typically 30 degrees ).
The part can be oriented in any position and is usually printed flat to minimize the number of supports and the total number of layers.
In printers like " from bottom to top " everything is more complicated. Overhangs and bridges also need to be supported, but minimizing the cross-sectional area of each layer is the most important criterion.
Forces applied to the part during the sintering step can cause it to come off the platform. These forces are proportional to the cross-sectional area of each layer.
For this reason, the parts must be oriented at an angle, and minimizing supports here is not a primary concern.
On the left - a detail oriented on the SLA printer "from top to bottom" (support minimization).
On the right is a part oriented on the SLA printer "from the bottom up" (minimizing the cross-sectional area).
Removing supports for an SLA printed part
One of the biggest problems with the accuracy of parts made with SLA is curling. This problem is similar to the deformation in FDM when materials shrink.
During curing, the resin shrinks slightly when exposed to the printer's light source. When shrinkage is significant, large internal stresses develop between the new layer and the previously cured material, causing the part to twist.
Adhesion (sintering) between layers
SLA printed parts have isotropic mechanical properties. This is due to the fact that one pass UV beam is not enough to completely cure the liquid resin.
Further passes help the previously hardened layers to fuse together. In fact, in the SLA of printing, curing continues even after the printing process is complete.
To achieve the best mechanical properties, parts printed using this technology should be post-cured by placing them in a chamber under intense ultraviolet radiation ( and sometimes at elevated temperatures ).
This greatly increases the hardness and heat resistance of SLA , but does not make it stronger. Rather the opposite.
Test specimens printed with standard clear resin on a SLA desktop printer have almost 2 times tensile strength after curing ( 65 MPa compared to 38 MPa).
Can operate under load at higher temperatures ( 58 degrees Celsius, compared with 42 degrees ), but their elongation at break is half as much ( 6.2% compared to 12% ).
If you leave the part in the sun, then nothing good will come of it.
Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation has a detrimental effect on physical properties and appearance. The part may curl, become very brittle, and change color.
For this reason, before using the part, it is recommended to apply a spray of transparent acrylic paint resistant to UV .
SLA Printing Materials is available in the form of a liquid resin. The price per liter of resin varies greatly - ranges from $50 for standard material to $400 for specialty materials such as casting or dental resin.
Industrial systems offer a wider range of materials than desktop systems SLA printers, which give the designer more control over the mechanical properties of the printed part.
SLA materials ( thermosets ) are more brittle than materials made using FDM or SLS ( thermoplastics ) and for this reason SLA parts are not typically used for functional prototypes that will be subjected to significant stress. However, new advances in materials development may change this in the near future.
The following table lists the advantages and disadvantages of the most commonly used resins:
+ Smooth surface
Relatively fragile part
+ Transparent material
- Requires post-processing for Presentable appearance
+ Used to create mold templates
+ Low ash after burnout
Rigid or durable resin
+ ABS-like or PP-like mechanical properties
- Low thermal resistance
High temperature resin
+ High temperature resistance
+ Used for injection molding
· - High price
+ High abrasion resistance
· - High price
+ Rubber-like material
- Poor printing accuracy
Post-processing SLA 3D printing
Parts printed with SLA technology can be processed to a high quality using various methods such as sanding and polishing, staining and mineral oil treatment. Widely developed articles about post-processing can be found on the Internet.
Transparent resin housing cover for electronics in various finishes. From left to right: removal of the main support, wet sanding, UV irradiation, acrylic and polishing
Advantages and disadvantages of SLA
SLA 3D printers can produce parts with very high dimensional accuracy and complex geometries.
The parts will have a very smooth surface, making them ideal for visual prototypes, for example.
Special materials are available such as clear, flexible and cast resins.
Parts printed using SLA technology tend to be fragile and not suitable for functional prototypes.
The mechanical properties and appearance of these parts deteriorate over time. They are adversely affected by exposure to sunlight.
Supports and post-processing when printing are always required.
The main characteristics of the SLA are shown in the table:
Photopolymer resins (thermosetting
± 0.5% (lower limit: ± 0.10 mm) - domestic
± 0.15% (lower limit ± 0.01 mm) - industrial
Up to 145 x 145 x 175 mm - for desktop printers
Up to 1500 x 750 x 500 mm - for industrial
Total layer thickness
25 - 100 µm
(Needed to make an accurate part)
SLA print is best for producing visual prototypes with very smooth surfaces and very fine detail.
Desktop SLA 3 D The printer is ideal for making small, about the size of an adult's fist, injection molded parts. Moreover, such a printer can be purchased at an affordable price.
Industrial SLA 3 D printers can produce very large parts (up to 1500 x 750 x 500 mm)
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All about 3D printing.additive manufacturing. Basic concepts.
- 1 Technology
- 2 Terminology
- 3 Fundamentals
- 4 Print technologies
- 5 3D printers
- 6 Application
- 7 Domestic and hobby use
- 8 Clothes
- 9 3D bioprinting
- 10 3D printing of implants and medical devices
- 11 3D printing services
- 12 Research into new applications
- 13 Intellectual Property
- 14 Influence of 3D printing
- 15 Space research
- 16 Social change
- 17 Firearms
Charles Hull - the father of modern 3D printing
3D printing is based on the concept of building an object in successive layers that display the contours of the model. In fact, 3D printing is the complete opposite of traditional mechanical production and processing methods such as milling or cutting, where the appearance of the product is formed by removing excess material (so-called "subtractive manufacturing").
3D printers are computer-controlled machines that build parts in an additive way. Although 3D printing technology appeared in the 80s of the last century, 3D printers were widely used commercially only in the early 2010s. The first viable 3D printer was created by Charles Hull, one of the founders of 3D Systems Corporation. At the beginning of the 21st century, there was a significant increase in sales, which led to a sharp drop in the cost of devices. According to the consulting firm Wohlers Associates, the global market for 3D printers and related services reached $2.2 billion in 2012, growing by 29%.% compared to 2011.
3D printing technologies are used for prototyping and distributed manufacturing in architecture, construction, industrial design, automotive, aerospace, military, engineering and medical industries, bioengineering (to create artificial fabrics), fashion and footwear, jewelry, in education, geographic information systems, food industry and many other areas. According to research, open source home 3D printers will allow you to win back the capital costs of your own purchase through the economy of household production of items.
Additive manufacturing involves the construction of objects by adding the necessary material, and not by removing excess, as is the case with subtractive methods
The term "additive manufacturing" refers to the technology of creating objects by applying successive layers material. Models made using the additive method can be used at any stage of production - both for the production of prototypes (so-called rapid prototyping) and as finished products themselves (so-called rapid production).
In manufacturing, especially machining, the term "subtractive" implies more traditional methods and is a retronym coined in recent years to distinguish between traditional methods and new additive methods. Although traditional manufacturing has used essentially "additive" methods for centuries (such as riveting, welding, and screwing), they lack a 3D information technology component. Machining, on the other hand, (the production of parts of an exact shape), as a rule, is based on subtractive methods - filing, milling, drilling and grinding.
The term "stereolithography" was defined by Charles Hull in a 1984 patent as "a system for generating three-dimensional objects by layering".
3D printed models
3D models are created by hand-held computer graphic design or 3D scanning. Hand modeling, or the preparation of geometric data for the creation of 3D computer graphics, is somewhat like sculpture. 3D scanning is the automatic collection and analysis of data from a real object, namely shape, color and other characteristics, with subsequent conversion into a digital three-dimensional model.
Both manual and automatic creation of 3D printed models can be difficult for the average user. In this regard, 3D printed marketplaces have become widespread in recent years. Some of the more popular examples include Shapeways, Thingiverse, and Threeding.
The following digital models are used as drawings for 3D printed objects , powder, paper or sheet material, building a 3D model from a series of cross sections. These layers, corresponding to virtual cross-sections in the CAD model, are connected or fused together to create an object of a given shape. The main advantage of this method is the ability to create geometric shapes of almost unlimited complexity.
"Resolution" of the printer means the thickness of the applied layers (Z axis) and the accuracy of positioning the print head in the horizontal plane (along the X and Y axes). Resolution is measured in DPI (dots per inch) or micrometers (the obsolete term is "micron"). Typical layer thicknesses are 100µm (250 DPI), although some devices like the Objet Connex and 3D Systems ProJet are capable of printing layers as thin as 16µm (1600 DPI). The resolution on the X and Y axes is similar to that of conventional 2D laser printers. A typical particle size is about 50-100µm (510 to 250 DPI) in diameter.
One of the methods for obtaining a digital model is 3D scanning. Pictured here is a MakerBot Digitizer
3D Scanner Building a model using modern technology takes hours to days, depending on the method used and the size and complexity of the model. Industrial additive systems can typically reduce the time to a few hours, but it all depends on the type of plant, as well as the size and number of models produced at the same time.
Traditional manufacturing methods such as injection molding can be cheaper for large-scale production of polymer products, but additive manufacturing has advantages for small-scale production, allowing for higher production rates and design flexibility, along with increased cost per unit produced. In addition, desktop 3D printers allow designers and developers to create concept models and prototypes without leaving the office.
FDM type 3D printers
Although the resolution of the printers is sufficient for most projects, printing slightly oversized objects and subsequent subtractive machining with high precision tools allows you to create models of increased accuracy.
The LUMEX Avance-25 is an example of devices with a similar combined manufacturing and processing method. Some additive manufacturing methods allow for the use of multiple materials, as well as different colors, within a single production run. Many of the 3D printers use "supports" or "supports" during printing. Supports are needed to build model fragments that are not in contact with the underlying layers or the working platform. The supports themselves are not part of the given model, and upon completion of printing, they either break off (in the case of using the same material as for printing the model itself), or dissolve (usually in water or acetone - depending on the material used to create the supports). ).
Since the late 1970s, several 3D printing methods have come into being. The first printers were large, expensive and very limited.
Completed skull with supports not yet removed
A wide variety of additive manufacturing methods are now available. The main differences are in the layering method and consumables used. Some methods rely on melting or softening materials to create layers: these include selective laser sintering (SLS), selective laser melting (SLM), direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), fusing deposition printing (FDM or FFF). Another trend has been the production of solid models by polymerization of liquid materials, known as stereolithography (SLA).
In the case of lamination of sheet materials (LOM), thin layers of material are cut to the required contour, and then joined into a single whole. Paper, polymers and metals can be used as LOM materials. Each of these methods has its own advantages and disadvantages, which is why some companies offer a choice of consumables for building a model - polymer or powder. LOM printers often use regular office paper to build durable prototypes. The key points when choosing the right device are the speed of printing, the price of a 3D printer, the cost of printed prototypes, as well as the cost and range of compatible consumables.
Printers that produce full-fledged metal models are quite expensive, but it is possible to use less expensive devices for the production of molds and subsequent casting of metal parts.
The main methods of additive manufacturing are presented in the table:
|Extrusion||Fused deposition modeling (FDM or FFF)||Thermoplastics (such as polylactide (PLA), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), etc. )|
|Wire||Manufacture of arbitrary shapes by electron beam fusing (EBFȝ)||Virtually all metal alloys|
|Powder||Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)||Virtually all metal alloys|
|Electron Beam Melting (EBM)||Titanium alloys|
|Selective laser melting (SLM)||Titanium alloys, cobalt-chromium alloys, stainless steel, aluminum|
|Selective heat sintering (SHS)||Powder thermoplastics|
|Selective laser sintering (SLS)||Thermoplastics, metal powders, ceramic powders|
|Inkjet||3D Inkjet(3DP)||Gypsum, plastics, metal powders, sand mixtures|
|Lamination||Lamination Object Manufacturing (LOM)||Paper, metal foil, plastic film|
|Digital LED Projection (DLP)||Photopolymers|
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM/FFF) was developed by S. Scott Trump in the late 1980s and commercialized in the 1990s by Stratasys, a company of which Trump is credited as a founding member. Due to the expiration of the patent, there is a large community of open source 3D printer developers as well as commercial organizations using the technology. As a consequence, the cost of devices has decreased by two orders of magnitude since the invention of the technology.
3D printers range from simple do-it-yourself printers to plastic...
Fusion printing process involves the creation of layers by extrusion of a fast-curing material in the form of microdrops or thin jets. Typically, consumable material (such as thermoplastic) comes in the form of spools from which the material is fed into a printhead called an "extruder". The extruder heats the material to its melting temperature, followed by extrusion of the molten mass through a nozzle. The extruder itself is driven by stepper motors or servomotors to position the printhead in three planes. The movement of the extruder is controlled by a manufacturing software (CAM) linked to a microcontroller.
A variety of polymers are used as consumables, including acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polycarbonate (PC), polylactide (PLA), high pressure polyethylene (HDPE), polycarbonate-ABS blends, polyphenylene sulfone (PPSU), etc. Typically, polymer supplied in the form of a filler made of pure plastic. There are several projects in the 3D printing enthusiast community that aim to recycle used plastic into materials for 3D printing. The projects are based on the production of consumables using shredders and melters.
FDM/FFF technology has certain limitations on the complexity of the generated geometric shapes. For example, the creation of suspended structures (such as stalactites) is impossible by itself, due to the lack of necessary support. This limitation is compensated by the creation of temporary support structures that are removed after printing is completed.
Selective sintering of powder materials is one of the additive manufacturing methods. Model layers are drawn (sintered) in a thin layer of powdered material, after which the work platform is lowered and a new layer of powder is applied. The process is repeated until a complete model is obtained. The unused material remains in the working chamber and serves to support the overhanging layers without requiring the creation of special supports.
The most common methods are based on laser sintering: selective laser sintering (SLS) for working with metals and polymers (e.g. polyamide (PA), glass fiber reinforced polyamide (PA-GF), glass fiber (GF), polyetheretherketone) (PEEK), polystyrene (PS), alumide, carbon fiber reinforced polyamide (Carbonmide), elastomers) and direct metal laser sintering (DMLS).
... to expensive industrial plants working with metals
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) was developed and patented by Carl Deckard and Joseph Beeman of the University of Texas at Austin in the mid-1080s under the auspices of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). A similar method was patented by R. F. Householder in 1979, but has not been commercialized.
Selective laser melting (SLM) is characterized by the fact that it does not sinter, but actually melts the powder at the points of contact with a powerful laser beam, allowing you to create high-density materials that are similar in terms of mechanical characteristics to products made by traditional methods.
Electron Beam Melting (EBM) is a similar method for the additive manufacturing of metal parts (eg titanium alloys) but using electron beams instead of lasers. EBM is based on melting metal powders layer by layer in a vacuum chamber. In contrast to sintering at temperatures below melting thresholds, models made by electron beam melting are characterized by solidity with a corresponding high strength.
Finally, there is the 3D inkjet printing method. In this case, a binder is applied to thin layers of powder (gypsum or plastic) in accordance with the contours of successive layers of the digital model. The process is repeated until the finished model is obtained. The technology provides a wide range of applications, including the creation of color models, suspended structures, the use of elastomers. The design of models can be strengthened by subsequent impregnation with wax or polymers.
FDM 3D printers are the most popular among hobbyists and enthusiasts
Some printers use paper as a material for building models, thereby reducing the cost of printing. Such devices experienced the peak of popularity in the 1990s. The technology consists in cutting out the layers of the model from paper using a carbon dioxide laser with simultaneous lamination of the contours to form the finished product.
In 2005, Mcor Technologies Ltd developed a variant of the technology that uses plain office paper, a tungsten carbide blade instead of a laser, and selective adhesive application.
There are also device variants that laminate thin metal and plastic sheets.
3D printing allows you to create functional monolithic parts of complex geometric shapes, like this jet engine nozzle
Stereolithography was patented by Charles Hull in 1986. Photopolymerization is primarily used in stereolithography (SLA) to create solid objects from liquid materials. This method differs significantly from previous attempts, from the sculptural portraits of François Willem (1830-1905) to photopolymerization by the Matsubara method (1974).
The Digital Projection Method (DLP) uses liquid photopolymer resins that are cured by exposure to ultraviolet light emitted from digital projectors in a coated working chamber. After the material has hardened, the working platform is immersed to a depth equal to the thickness of one layer, and the liquid polymer is irradiated again. The procedure is repeated until the completion of the model building. An example of a rapid prototyping system using digital LED projectors is the EnvisionTEC Perfactory.
Inkjet printers (eg Objet PolyJet) spray thin layers (16-30µm) of photopolymer onto the build platform until a complete model is obtained. Each layer is irradiated with an ultraviolet beam until hardened. The result is a model ready for immediate use. The gel-like support material used to support the components of geometrically complex models is removed after the model has been handcrafted and washed. The technology allows the use of elastomers.
Ultra-precise detailing of models can be achieved using multiphoton polymerization. This method is reduced to drawing the contours of a three-dimensional object with a focused laser beam. Due to non-linear photoexcitation, the material solidifies only at the focusing points of the laser beam. This method makes it easy to achieve resolutions above 100 µm, as well as build complex structures with moving and interacting parts.
Another popular method is curing with LED projectors or "projection stereolithography".
This method involves dividing a 3D digital model into horizontal layers, converting each layer into a 2D projection similar to photomasks. The 2D images are projected onto successive layers of photopolymer resin that harden according to the projected contours.
In some systems, the projectors are located at the bottom, helping to level the surface of the photopolymer material when the model moves vertically (in this case, the build platform with the applied layers moves up, rather than sinking into the material) and reduces the production cycle to minutes instead of hours.
The technology allows you to create models with layers of several materials with different curing rates.
Some commercial models, such as the Objet Connex, apply resin using small nozzles.
Industrial adoption of additive manufacturing is proceeding at a rapid pace. For example, US-Israeli joint venture Stratasys supplies $2,000 to $500,000 additive manufacturing machines, while General Electric uses high-end machines to produce gas turbine parts.
LOM takes papier-mâché to the next level The development of 3D printers for home use is being pursued by a growing number of companies and enthusiasts. Most of the work is done by amateurs for their own and public needs, with help from the academic community and hackers.
The oldest and longest running project in the desktop 3D printer category is RepRap. The RepRap project aims to create free and open source (FOSH) 3D printers provided under the GNU General Public License. RepRap devices are capable of printing custom-designed plastic components that can be used to build clones of the original device. Individual RepRap devices have been successfully applied to the production of printed circuit boards and metal parts.
Due to open access to drawings of RepRap printers, many of the projects adopt the technical solutions of analogues, thus creating a semblance of an ecosystem consisting mostly of freely modifiable devices. The wide availability of open source designs only encourages variations. On the other hand, there is a significant variation in the level of quality and complexity of both the designs themselves and the devices manufactured on their basis. The rapid development of open source 3D printers is leading to a rise in popularity and the emergence of public and commercial portals (such as Thingiverse or Cubify) offering a variety of printable 3D designs. In addition, the development of technology contributes to the sustainable development of local economies through the possibility of using locally available materials for the production of printers.
Stereolithographic 3D printers are often used in dental prosthetics
The cost of 3D printers has been declining at a significant rate since about 2010: devices that cost $20,000 at the time are now $1,000 or less. Many companies and individual developers are already offering budget RepRap kits under $500. The [email protected] open source project has led to the development of general purpose printers capable of printing anything that can be squeezed through a nozzle, from chocolate to silicone putty and chemicals.
Printers based on this design have been available as kits since 2012 for around $2,000. Some 3D printers, including the mUVe 3D and Lumifold, are designed to be as affordable as possible from the outset, with the Peachy Printer priced around $100. .
Professional Kickstarter-funded printers often perform well: Rapide 3D printers are quiet and fumes-free at $1499. 3D Doodler's '3D Printing Pen' Raised $2.3M in Kickstarter donations, with a selling price of $99 for the device itself. True, it is difficult to call the 3D Doodler a full-fledged 3D printer.
3D Systems Cube is a popular consumer 3D printer
As prices fall, 3D printers are becoming more attractive for consumer production. In addition, home use of 3D printing technologies can reduce the environmental footprint of industry by reducing the volume of consumables and the energy and fuel costs of transporting materials and goods.
Parallel to the creation of home 3D printing devices, the development of devices for processing household waste into printed materials, the so-called. Recyclebot. For example, the commercial model Filastrucer was designed to recycle plastic waste (shampoo bottles, milk containers) into inexpensive consumables for RepRap printers. Such methods of household disposal are not only practical, but also have a positive impact on the ecological situation.
The development and customization of RepRap 3D printers has created a new category of semi-professional printers for small businesses. Manufacturers such as Solidoodle, RoBo and RepRapPro offer kits for under $1,000. The accuracy of these devices is between industrial and consumer printers. Recently, high-performance printers using a delta-shaped coordinate system, or the so-called "delta robots", are gaining popularity. Some companies offer software to support printers made by other companies.
Using LED projectors helps reduce the cost of stereolithography printers. Pictured DLP printer Nova
3D printing allows you to equalize the cost of production of one part and mass production, which poses a threat to large-scale economies. The impact of 3D printing may be similar to the introduction of manufacture. In the 1450s, no one could predict the consequences of the printing press, in the 1750s, no one took the steam engine seriously, and transistors 19The 50s seemed like a curious innovation. But the technology continues to evolve and is likely to have an impact on every scientific and industrial branch with which it comes into contact.
The earliest application of additive manufacturing can be considered rapid prototyping, aimed at reducing the development time of new parts and devices compared to earlier subtractive methods (too slow and expensive). The improvement of additive manufacturing technologies leads to their spread in various fields of science and industry. The production of parts previously only available through machining is now possible through additive methods, and at a better price.
Applications include breadboarding, prototyping, molding, architecture, education, mapping, healthcare, retail, etc.
Rapid prototyping: Industrial 3D printers have been used for rapid prototyping and research since the early 1980s . As a rule, these are quite large installations using powder metals, sand mixtures, plastics and paper. Such devices are often used by universities and commercial companies.
Advances in rapid prototyping have led to the creation of materials suitable for the production of final products, which in turn has contributed to the development of 3D production of finished products as an alternative to traditional methods. One of the advantages of fast production is the relatively low cost of manufacturing small batches.
Rapid production: rapid production remains a fairly new technique whose possibilities have not yet been fully explored. Nevertheless, many experts tend to consider rapid production a new level of technology. Some of the most promising areas for rapid prototyping to adapt to rapid manufacturing are selective laser sintering (SLS) and direct metal sintering (DMLS).
Bulk customization: Some companies offer services for customizing objects using simplified software and then creating unique custom 3D models. One of the most popular areas was the manufacture of cell phone cases. In particular, Nokia has made publicly available the designs of its phone cases for user customization and 3D printing.
Mass production: The current low print speed of 3D printers limits their use in mass production. To combat this shortcoming, some FDM devices are equipped with multiple extruders, allowing you to print different colors, different polymers, and even create several models at the same time. In general, this approach increases productivity without requiring the use of multiple printers - a single microcontroller is enough to operate multiple printheads.
Devices with multiple extruders allow the creation of several identical objects from only one digital model, but at the same time allow the use of different materials and colors. The print speed increases in proportion to the number of print heads. In addition, certain energy savings are achieved through the use of a common working chamber, which often requires heating. Together, these two points reduce the cost of the process.
Many printers are equipped with dual printheads, however this configuration is only used for printing single models in different colors and materials.
Consumer and hobbyist applications
Today, consumer 3D printing mainly attracts the attention of enthusiasts and hobbyists, while practical applications are quite limited. However, 3D printers have already been used to print working mechanical clocks, woodworking gears, jewelry, and more. Home 3D printing websites often offer designs for hooks, doorknobs, massage tools, and more.
3D printing is also being used in hobby veterinary medicine and zoology – in 2013, a 3D printed prosthesis allowed a duckling to stand up, and hermit crabs love stylish 3D printed shells. 3D printers are widely used for the domestic production of jewelry - necklaces, rings, handbags, etc.
The [email protected] open project aims to develop general purpose home printers. The devices have been tested in research environments using the latest 3D printing technologies for the production of chemical compounds. The printer can print any material suitable for extrusion from a syringe in the form of a liquid or paste. The development is aimed at the possibility of home production of medicines and household chemicals in remote areas of residence.
Student project OpenReflex resulted in a design for an analog SLR camera suitable for 3D printing.
3D printing is gaining ground in the fashion world as couturiers use printers to experiment with swimwear, shoes and dresses. Commercial applications include rapid prototyping and 3D printing of professional athletic shoes - the Vapor Laser Talon for soccer players and New Balance for track and field athletes.
EBM titanium medical implants
3D printing is currently being researched by biotech companies and academic institutions. The research is aimed at exploring the possibility of using inkjet/drip 3D printing in tissue engineering to create artificial organs. The technology is based on the application of layers of living cells on a gel substrate or sugar matrix, with a gradual layer-by-layer build-up to create three-dimensional structures, including vascular systems. The first 3D tissue printing production system based on NovoGen bioprinting technology was introduced in 2009year. A number of terms are used to describe this research area: organ printing, bioprinting, computer tissue engineering, etc.
One of the pioneers of 3D printing, the research company Organovo, conducts laboratory research and develops the production of functional three-dimensional samples of human tissues for use in medical and therapeutic research. For bioprinting, the company uses a NovoGen MMX 3D printer. Organovo believes that bioprinting will speed up the testing of new medicines before clinical trials, saving time and money invested in drug development. In the long term, Organovo hopes to adapt bioprinting technology for graft and surgical applications.
3D printing of implants and medical devices
3D printing is used to create implants and devices used in medicine. Successful surgeries include examples such as titanium pelvic and jaw implants and plastic tracheal splints. The most widespread use of 3D printing is expected in the production of hearing aids and dentistry. In March 2014, Swansea surgeons used 3D printing to reconstruct the face of a motorcyclist who was seriously injured in a road accident.
3D printing services
Some companies offer online 3D printing services available to individuals and industrial companies. The customer is required to upload a 3D design to the site, after which the model is printed using industrial installations. The finished product is either delivered to the customer or subject to pickup.
Exploring new applications
3D printing makes it possible to create fully functional metal products, including weapons.
Future applications of 3D printing may include the creation of open source scientific equipment for use in open laboratories and other scientific applications - fossil reconstruction in paleontology, the creation of duplicates of priceless archaeological artifacts, the reconstruction of bones and body parts for forensic examination, the reconstruction of heavily damaged evidence collected from crime scenes. The technology is also being considered for application in construction.
In 2005, academic journals began to publish materials on the possibility of using 3D printing technologies in art. In 2007, the Wall Street Journal and Time magazine included 3D design in their list of the 100 most significant achievements of the year. The Victoria and Albert Museum at the London Design Festival in 2011 presented an exhibition by Murray Moss entitled "Industrial Revolution 2.0: how the material world materializes again", dedicated to 3D printing technologies.
In 2012, a University of Glasgow pilot project showed that 3D printing could be used to produce chemical compounds, including hitherto unknown ones. The project printed chemical storage vessels into which “chemical ink” was injected using additive machines and then reacted. The viability of the technology was proven by the production of new compounds, but a specific practical application was not pursued during the experiment. Cornell Creative Machines has confirmed the feasibility of creating food products using hydrocolloid 3D printing. Professor Leroy Cronin of the University of Glasgow has suggested using "chemical ink" to print medicines.
The use of 3D scanning technologies makes it possible to create replicas of real objects without the use of casting methods, which are expensive, difficult to perform and can have a destructive effect in cases of precious and fragile objects of cultural heritage.
An additional example of 3D printing technologies being developed is the use of additive manufacturing in construction. This could make it possible to accelerate the pace of construction while reducing costs. In particular, the possibility of using technology to build space colonies is being considered. For example, the Sinterhab project aims to explore the possibility of additive manufacturing of lunar bases using lunar regolith as the main building material. Instead of using binding materials, the possibility of microwave sintering of regolith into solid building blocks is being considered.
Additive manufacturing allows you to create waveguides, sleeves and bends in terahertz devices. The high geometric complexity of such products could not be achieved by traditional production methods. A commercially available professional EDEN 260V setup was used to create structures with a resolution of 100 microns. The printed structures were galvanized with gold to create a terahertz plasmonic apparatus.
China allocated almost $500 million. for the development of 10 national institutes for the development of 3D printing technologies. In 2013, Chinese scientists began printing living cartilage, liver and kidney tissue using specialized 3D bioprinters. Researchers at Hangzhou Dianqi University have even developed their own 3D bioprinter for this challenging task, dubbed Regenovo. One of Regenovo's developers, Xu Mingeng, said it takes less than an hour for the printer to produce a small sample of liver tissue or a four to five inch sample of ear cartilage. Xu predicts the emergence of the first full-fledged printed artificial organs within the next 10-20 years. That same year, researchers at the Belgian Hasselt University successfully printed a new jaw for an 83-year-old woman. After the implant is implanted, the patient can chew, talk and breathe normally.
In Bahrain, sandstone-like 3D printing has created unique structures to support coral growth and restore damaged reefs. These structures have a more natural shape than previously used structures and do not have the acidity of concrete.
Section of liver tissue printed by Organovo, which is working to improve 3D printing technology for the production of artificial organs
3D printing has been around for decades, and many aspects of the technology are subject to patents, copyrights, and trademark protection. However, from a legal point of view, it is not entirely clear how intellectual property protection laws will be applied in practice if 3D printers become widely used.
distribution and will be used in the household production of goods for personal use, non-commercial use or for sale.
Any of these protective measures may negatively affect the distribution of designs used in 3D printing or the sale of printed products. The use of protected technologies may require the permission of the owner, which in turn will require the payment of royalties.
Patents cover certain processes, devices, and materials. The duration of patents varies from country to country.
Often, copyright extends to the expression of ideas in the form of material objects and lasts for the life of the author, plus 70 years. Thus, if someone creates a statue and obtains copyright, it will be illegal to distribute designs for printing of an identical or similar statue.
Influence of 3D printing
Additive manufacturing requires manufacturing companies to be flexible and constantly improve available technologies to stay competitive. Advocates of additive manufacturing predict that the opposition between 3D printing and globalization will escalate as home production displaces trade in goods between consumers and large manufacturers. In reality, the integration of additive technologies into commercial production serves as a complement to traditional subtractive methods, rather than a complete replacement for the latter.
In 2010, work began on the application of 3D printing in zero gravity and low gravity. The main goal is to create hand tools and more complex devices "as needed" instead of using valuable cargo volume and fuel to deliver finished products to orbit.
Even NASA is interested in 3D printing
At the same time, NASA is conducting joint tests with Made in Space to assess the potential of 3D printing to reduce the cost and increase the efficiency of space exploration. Nasa's additive-manufactured rocket parts were successfully tested in July 2013, with two fuel injectors performing on par with conventionally produced parts during operational tests subjecting the parts to temperatures of around 3,300°C and high pressure levels. It is noteworthy that NASA is preparing to launch a 3D printer into space: the agency is going to demonstrate the possibility of creating spare parts directly in orbit, instead of expensive transportation from the ground.
The topic of social and cultural change as a result of the introduction of commercially available additive technologies has been discussed by writers and sociologists since the 1950s. One of the most interesting assumptions was the possible blurring of boundaries between everyday life and workplaces as a result of the massive introduction of 3D printers into the home. It also points to the ease of transferring digital designs, which, in combination with local production, will help reduce the need for global transportation. Finally, copyright protection may change to reflect the ease of additive manufacturing of many products.
In 2012, US company Defense Distributed released plans to create a "design of a functional plastic weapon that could be downloaded and reproduced by anyone with access to a 3D printer." Defense Distributed has developed a 3D printed version of the receiver for the AR-15 rifle, capable of withstanding more than 650 shots, and a 30-round magazine for the M-16 rifle.