3D printing is a quickly expanding field, with the popularity and uses for 3D printers growing every day. In this guide, I will attempt to give an introduction to the wide range of technologies in 3D printers, a comparison of the most common 3D printers on the market, an overview of materials that can be used to print, online services and communities that offer 3D models or 3D printing services, and an intro to designing and printing your first model.
3D printing can be used to prototype, create replacement parts, and is even versatile enough to print prostheses and medical implants. It will have a growing impact on our world, as more and more people gain access to these amazing machines.
Step 1: Technologies
While all 3D printers create objects using additive methods (the opposite of a CNC machine), different approaches exist to actually physically depositing the material. The most common methods are:
-Fused Deposition Modeling- A very common method in which the part is printed by extruding molten stings of material that melt together to create the part. This is usually the cheapest method. Examples include: Athorbot
-Selective Laser Sintering -More common in industrial style prototyping settings, a laser melts together powdered plastic, ceramic, or other material, then spreads more powder on top, repeating the process to build the part layer by layer. The main advantage of this is the wide variety of materials that can be printed.
-Powder Bed and Binder- Similar to Laser Sintering, an inkjet head distributes binder to the correct location on a bed of powder. The most notable advantage is the ability to print in many colors.
-Stereolithography- Here, an ultraviolet laser hardens resin in a vat layer by layer until the part is built. It can quickly create high definition parts that can be machined. However, the resin is fairly expensive compared to other 3D printing materials.
Step 2: Materials
Materials vary from technique to technique. The most common for FDM is spooled ABS style plastic filament. However, many other materials can be printed, including ceramic, metal, rubber, clear plastic, glass and others. The materials available are dependent on the method of printing.
Step 3: Online Communities and Services
There are a wide variety of online resources for finding 3D files. As always use discretion when downloading anything from the Internet such as: Thingiverse
Step 4: Design and Print
When it comes to modeling 3D files for a printer, the most commonly accepted format is an STL file, which is essentially a mesh made of triangles. You can use your preferred CADD software to create the model.
All of your models need to be what is called "water-tight." A model being watertight (also called a manifold model) means that there are no holes in the mesh that could cause issues while printing.
Once you have the design, the object is sent to the printer. Most printers have software that lets you convert the STL to the layers that the printer will print in and commands for the printer. Depending on the method of printing, there will likely be some support material (which helps the object print by supporting delicate pieces) that will have to be removed using a vacuum, brush, or water, depending on what type of material it is.
Step 5: Examples
A few examples of what you can do with a 3d printer.
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