There are five unique printing processes:
Selective laser melting or direct metal laser sintering: A laser is used to fuse together metallic powder into the desired shape.
Selective laser sintering: Lasers are used to fuse together small pieces of material like plastic or metal into the desired shape.
Fused deposition modeling: Plastic or metal wiring is unspun from a coil and printed in layers to create the desired shape.
Stereolithography: Ultraviolet-curable resin is laid down and built up, layer by layer. Ultraviolet light is shone on each layer after it has been put down to solidify the resin.
Laminated object manufacturing: Layers of material are laid down and glued to one another and then shaped with a laser or knife.
The technology for 3-D printing has been around for nearly 30 years, but it wasn’t until fairly recently that printers and printing materials became an affordable option for businesses. Because of the high demand for the technology, the price dropped from about $20,000 in the 1980s to around just $1,000 today, leading to a rise in sales. And as the price dropped, creativity grew.
Printers that were originally used just for prototyping began to be used to print manufacturing materials, such as molds. Today, companies in a variety of industries, including architecture, construction, automotive, dental and medical, engineering, biotechnology, fashion and education are experimenting with using 3-D printing to manufacture end products. This innovative practice comes with its share of benefits and risks.
Industry experts predict that 3-D printing will transform manufacturing as we know it. Exciting projects like rebuilding coral reefs, growing functioning organs and body parts and replicating priceless artifacts for scientific study will continue to capture the attention of the public and encourage further innovation.