In some way shape or form 3D printing technology seems to slowly be finding its way into nearly every product based industry. You may hear many stories about companies using it, but what exactly is 3D printing? Let’s find out!
A simple way to describe 3D printing is using programmable machinery to create physical objects from 3D computer models. There are many different types of materials and types of printers, but in general machines typically build objects one layer at a time by accurately dispensing material in patterns provided by the computer model.
Types of 3D Printing
Every different type of 3D printing technology comes with very different characteristics. The main differences usually come down to the level of detail they can achieve, size of parts required and the type of material needed. Here are a few of the more popular 3D printing methods:
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
Fused deposition modeling is the most common and cost effective type of 3D printing. These machines slowly dispense hot plastic onto a print bed until a part is created. The technology is used from consumer level 3D printers to industrial grade 3D printers. The print quality and capabilities of a machine can vary greatly from machine to machine. These machines typically print in plastics such as PLA, ABS, or PETG. There are however a few specialty plastics that contain some form of nylon or carbon fiber. If you are interested in getting into 3D printing as a hobby consider reading our getting started guide which has more information about FDM printers.
Stereolithography printers are great at bringing high level of detail to prints. These printers have vats of liquid resin which are cured layer by layer using lasers. The beds of these printers appear upside down compared to most printers. This gives an interesting effect of parts appearing to be pulled out of the machine. Here is a video of an Eiffel tower model being printed in a formlabs printer as an example. One disadvantage of SLA printers is the smell. Most resins give off quite an odor while printing which may not be ideal to run in your home.
Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
One of the first questions people usually ask about 3D printing is can I make 3D parts with it? With DMLS printing technology yes you can even create metal parts! These printers use lasers to heat powder to the point which it will fuse with other layers creating metal parts. After the printing process, it is common to heat treat the metal parts to make them as strong as possible. Unfortunately these printers are still very expensive and not yet within the price range of typical consumers however they are slowly coming down in price as the technology advances.