The Basics of 3D Printing

        3-D Printing


3-D printing has really taken off in recent years. An additive manufacturing technique, it is the process of printing layers of material on top of one another to “grow” a product. Product creation relies on computer-aided design (CAD) files. Stereolithography software reads the CAD file and uses a material such as paper, powder or metal to print the shape. The number of printing materials available is constantly growing and currently includes thermoplastics, edible materials, rubber, clay, porcelain, metal, ceramic powders, plaster, paper and even human tissue.

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.

Like any technology, 3-D printing is not without risks, many of which are yet to be discovered. Despite these risks, companies are looking to 3-D printing technology to rethink processes and improve business operations.

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.