Did you know that you can build an entire house using 3D printing technology? We’ve been familiar with the technology for making small plastic objects like toys and prototypes. However, today you can literally make anything you want out of it – from a mobile phone cover to a closet. You know what the best part is? You can make a few of them by yourself too!
When you need a prototype for your project, you usually look for a 3D printing service provider in your locality. What you probably don’t know is that a 3D printer can do a lot more than just making plastic prototypes and toys. Let’s see what this technology is capable of.
What is 3D Printing Technology?
To understand this technology, let’s first see how basic printing works. In 2D, your file can be in image or text format. Once it’s ready, all you have to do is print it on paper. The printer will have ink that will bring out the colors you need.
However, it’s different when you want an actual, 3-dimensional object. It’s not ink, but the raw material that you’ll need to make a real object. Most importantly, the file on the computer has to be an actual object made on a 3D software. When you connect your printer to the computer, it will start creating the object, understanding every layer you made on the software.
So, 3D printing is a technology that is makes 3-dimensional objects from a soft copy of the design made on a computer.
How Does it Work?
Let’s understand this by looking at a simple object. A book is a 3D object while all its pages are 2-dimensional. When you pile up these 2D sheets one on top of the other, you get a 3D object – a book.
You’ll need 4 things to create an object with 3D printing:
3D Printing Designs
First, you need to know what you want to make using 3D printing. The design could be a 2-dimensional image or something you have in mind. You could be having a 3D image or photograph too, but you’ll have to create that design in another software if you want a 3D print.
3D Printing Software
Your computer needs to first have a software like Autodesk Maya, Autodesk 3D Max or Tinkercard – where you can make a 3-dimensional figure. Along with that, you need a slicing software, that can split your design into several 2D layers. So, if you’ve made a cube, then it will be split or “sliced” into several square sheets.
3D Printing Machine
Finally, without the 3D printer, you cannot achieve your output. You need to connect this printing machine to your file, which will be sliced by the software. The machine starts making the object layer by layer, from bottom to top till it is finally ready.
Types of 3D Printing Technologies
Just like there are different types of 2D printers that you use – like laser, inkjet and LED, you have different types of 3D printers too. Given that you can make any object out of it – from a plastic tube to a metallic spoon, there are 7 different technologies on which 3D printers work:
These printers use resins (a type of liquid) as materials for printing and a UV light source or laser that helps in solidifying the object. As the printer makes each layer with liquid resin, the UV light helps in solidifying every layer and fusing the top liquid layer with the solid layers on the bottom. There are sub-categories in these printers based on the type of UV light source used, the most one being Stereolithography or SLA printers.
These printers work in a similar fashion as that of vat photopolymerization and an inkjet printer. It extracts the resin drop by drop on the surface and only in the end does the UV light harden the object.
Here, there are two types of materials used – powder and liquid resin. The printer will create the object with the help of the powder while the resin is used as a glue to bind and harden the object.
These printers use filaments as the material for making the object. The 3D printer first heats and melts the filament and then extrudes it to form layers. As soon as the material has been extruded, it hardens on its own.
Powder Bed Fusion
As the name suggests, these printers use powder as the main material. The particles are extruded layer by layer and a binding agent like UV light is used to solidify the object.
Here, you have sheets made of paper, metal or polymer that form the object – layer by layer. These sheets are then welded and bound together and shaped with the help of CNC mills.
Directed Energy Deposition
These are metal 3D printers that contain powder or wire as raw material. As the nozzle extrudes it, laser beam or a similar source is used to bind or solidify the object.
Types of 3D Printing Materials
As we read about the types of printing technology, by now we have figured out the various forms of materials that a 3D printer can have – filament, resin and powder. These are merely the forms – there are plenty of substances that exist in these forms. Let’s take a look at what the objects you use are made of.
3D Printer Filament
A filament is generally a thin thread. These threads can be made of plastic, metal, biodegradable substances or even wood. When you heat them to a certain temperature, they melt and become flexible. This property helps the 3D printer to form the object in the given shape.
Following are the various 3D filaments available:
PLA stands for Poly Lactic Acid – a type of thermoplastic made from cornstarch and sugarcane. This makes the material biodegradable and hence useful in making objects like surgical implants, packaging materials for food items and disposable tableware.
Thermoplastic Polyurethane is resistant to oil, water, chemicals and abrasion. Objects made of this filament are both hard and flexible, which makes it useful for making sports goods, automotive parts and footwear.
ABS is the plastic with which plenty of our toys, disposable cutlery, bottles and packaging materials are made of. The LEGO you’ve played with, the bubble wrap on your newly ordered items and the water bottles you carry to the gym are all made of ABS plastic. This filament is easy to extrude and work with, making it a popular choice for making most of the objects we use.
The mineral water bottle that you use and throw once is made of PET or Polyethylene Terephthalate. Even though the material is used to make disposable containers, what many people don’t know is that you can recycle this plastic.
You’ve probably known nylon to be a synthetic fabric with which garments are made. However, it is a plastic too, which is cheaper, lighter stronger and hence more durable than ABS plastic. It’s the reason why nylon filaments are used for making a wide variety of mechanic tools, machine parts, containers and other consumer goods.
Polyvinyl Alcohol is the filament that most FDM printers use. Being a non-toxic, biodegradable material, it is useful for making personal hygiene products, putty and fishing products.
We’ve seen sandstone being used for making handicrafts and architectural displays. What many of us don’t know is that the material is available in filament form too – as a combination of brick and PLA. Thus, you can create the same using 3D print technology and it gives the same feel.
Well, this filament is obviously not the raw wood we get from trees. It’s a mixture of recycled wood and polymer that makes it look very real. You can make any object that you would make with wood otherwise – from boxes and handicrafts to furniture items.
A metal filament is actually a mixture of polymer with any metal. To name a few, you can have aluminum, brass, copper, bronze and stainless steel. They give the exact same metallic finish and so can be used to make the same items you would make with pure metal – like jewelry, hardware items or artefacts.
High Impact Polystyrene is a biodegradable, durable and non-toxic filament that is not just used as a raw material, but also as a binder to make other objects. Mostly, it is useful for making packaging materials, toys and medical trays.
Magnetic Iron PLA Filament
This is particularly an infusion of PLA with iron powder, used to make fridge magnets, sensors and educational tools.
This is usually a fusion of conductive carbon and PLA or ABS. As the name suggests, this filament is used in the electrical industry, mainly for low-voltage products like circuit boards, LEDs and sensors.
Thermoplastic Elastomers are stretchable materials, having high elasticity. Hence, they’re used for making a wide range of products from wearable accessories and phone cases to household appliances and medical supplies.
Glow in the Dark Filament
Just as the name suggests, this filament glows in the dark – and so does the object you make with it. You need to charge it with a light source to get the desired glow and color out of it. Since it gives a neon effect, you can make toys, party props and light switch out of it.
In powder-based 3D printing, you mostly have particles of plastic or metal that are bound together by UV light or a liquid. Broadly, these are the 4 types of powder materials you can use.
Some of the metals that are used in powder form include aluminum, chrome, nickel, stainless steel, copper, cobalt and titanium.
Mostly, plastics that are not available in filament form are used in powder form. These include silicates and polystyrene. However, nylon powder is also used in powder form for making handles, fasteners and certain toys.
This is a combination of the metal aluminum with the plastic polyamide or nylon. It has a very grainy texture and is an excellent material for making prototypes and industrial models.
These are liquid photopolymers that solidify when you expose them to UV light. They’re mostly used in SLA printers and others that use vat photopolymerization technology. Since the material is mostly plastic, it is used to create prototypes, models, toys and show pieces.
When you’re travelling, you do look at some mementos in the souvenir shops like a mini version of the Eiffel tower or the London Eye. These are a few things that are made out of standard resin – material that is used for making prototypes, conceptual models and functional models.
The reason why it’s called “rapid” resin is because it doesn’t deform or shrink while it’s still soft. This makes it a material that takes the form you want more quickly.
As the name suggests, this material is hard and durable, just like ABS plastic. Hence, they’re useful for making toys, helmets, prototypes and models.
Normally, when you make an object with a resin, you need to clean it with alcohol to remove the odor and clean the dirt. However, this one can be washed with water, which saves you some money.
As the name suggests, this material has some elasticity, which makes it stretchable when it’s hard. It is waterproof and hence useful for making mobile phone covers, water bottles and wheels.
These resins are made with biodegradable, organic sources like soy bean which makes them eco-friendly.
Glow in the Dark Resin
Just like the glow in the dark filament, the resin also has a neon look and feel. Since they’re hard enough, you can use them to make reflectors and signs that need to be visible at night.
Where Else is 3D Printing Technology Used?
The applications of 3D printing you read so far are the common ones that people know of. We all know the common use of this technology – manufacturing objects and prototypes. However, there are some situations where you cannot imagine the use of 3D printing but it is happening in the world.
Here are some surprising uses of the technology that you probably weren’t aware of, neither could you predict from the above information:
3D Printing Fashion
We’ve seen that footwear, jewelry, watches and other accessories can be easily made using 3D printing. What you possibly can’t imagine is that the technology can also make garments. Now they can be distinguished easily from what we usually wear. Here’s how:
The material used to make them is different – usually an elastomer.
You won’t find any kind of stitches on any side of the garment – that’s the biggest sign that it is a 3D printed outfit.
Most of them will have a mesh-like design.
3D Printed House
We’ve known that 3D printing makes the architectural models we see on display. However, not all of us are aware that the same technology can build the real structure too. You can build houses, buildings and communities with 3D printers. It is actually much faster than manual construction and as sturdy as a house made of bricks and concrete.
The material used to build these houses are a mixture of concrete, cement, synthetic stone, wax, foam and polymers.
Now that’s a new thing that we’ll move to from 3D printing – 3D bioprinting. We read so far that you can produce surgical implants, medicine trays and surgical tools with the help of 3D printers. However, what you possibly haven’t imagined is that the same technology can also produce cells, tissues, bones, blood vessels and organs.
You could be possibly thinking that you’re reading bullshit, but it’s actually happening right now. The concept behind it is that just as a 3D printer can take materials like polymers and metals, so can it take living cells. The printing material used here is “bio-ink”, which doctors make from the patient’s cells.
3D Printing for Aviation
I’m not talking about the little things here, but a part of an aircraft engine that actually has greater efficiency. It’s a cobalt-chrome nozzle that GE Aviation created for the LEAP engine. The engine now weighs 25% lesser, is 5 times stronger and has saved $3 million per aircraft.
I know what you’re thinking – how can meat be vegan and what the hell does it have to do with 3D printing? Well, just as bioprinting is possible, so can you use vegetable proteins to create something. In this case, you’re making something that looks like meat but is actually vegetable protein. And it’s a 3D printer that actually makes this edible, vegan food item! Interesting, isn’t it?
Top 3D Printers You Can Buy
Now that you know how fun, innovative and exciting 3D printing can be, do you want to print something by yourself? You don’t have to start a 3D printing business to own a printer. You can create things as a hobby or as a student too. Here are some that you can easily use at home:
This printer works with USB and Wifi both and weighs 34.3 lbs. It’s not very bulky, so you can easily keep it on a table top. Following are the filaments it is compatible with:
If you’re looking for a cheap 3D printer that works fast, has a longer life span and works with the ultimate precision, then this is the right choice for you. Compatible with high quality resins, this printer supports 12 different languages and has a 2k monochrome LCD display.
If you’re looking for a metal 3D printer, then this is the one for you. Compatible with both metal and PLA filament, this printer works fast and is really safe to use.
Compatible with all resins, this SLA 3D printer can slice a file in just one minute and works 3 times faster than others. It is easy to use and comes with a year’s warranty.
Compatible with PLA filament, this 3D printer price might seem a lot but comes with additional materials like copper fill, wood fill and bronze fill. It is known for its super-fast and efficient printing abilities.
This is a commercial grade 3D printer compatible with all resins. Known for its precision and durability, this is the best choice you can make if you wish to create complicated structures.
This is a kit that comprises of all the tools along with an instruction manual that you’ll need to create your own 3D printer. Here’s what it has:
- CNC shield board
- Longruner board
- USB cable for board
- Nema 17 stepper motors 1.7 a (with bracket and screw)
- Nema 17 stepper motor mounting brackets
- Mechanical switch end tops
- 3-pin 70 cm cables
- 4 DRV8825 stepper motor drivers
- 4 aluminum heatsink w/3m tape backings
- 12 M3 screws for bracket of stepper motor
Technologies Similar to 3D Printing
You know by now that most manufacturers use 3D printing. However, it’s not the only technology used in production. There are many more technologies that are similar to 3D printing – in the sense that you can create a real object from a virtual 3D design too.
You may say that it is somewhere between 2D and 3D printing. The major difference is that in lenticular printing, you take a 2D print out of an image that has a 3D effect. So, you’re not really creating an object here – you print an image in 2D form but with an illusion of depth to it. This is mostly done for printing promotional banners.
3D Laser Printer
Coming to a laser 3D printer, it is used to make actual objects, but in the exact opposite way as that of a 3D printer. Laser printing technology involves cutting of objects. A normal 3D printer has a nozzle that extrudes the material in the shape needed to make the object. On the contrary, a 3D laser printer will shape a chunk of material kept in front of it by cutting it in the desired shape.
3D Printing Pen
Now this is something interesting. You’re creating an object here too, except that you’re using a pen instead of a printer. No computers needed; all you have to do is draw on a surface! 3doodler, the world’s 1st 3D pen works with filaments instead of ink. You need to plug them and start drawing – taking the pen from the surface to the air. Once the filament dries up, your object is ready!
Would You Like to Try 3D Printing?
If you have your own 3D printer, you can make your own cell phone cover, pen stand, water bottle and what not! Kids in school can actually start with the 3doodler, that helps them understand the concept of 3D printing technology better. What do you say, would you like to check out something cool?