What is a 3D Printer and How it Works?

3D Printing is the revolutionary printing method that is capable of printing everything quickly. 3D printers are a new generation of printers that can print various kind of objects in various materials. And the best part is everything is done in a single machine. If you have happened to have visited an industry that makes a product, there is a line of machines that completes a sequence of jobs to create the product. In other words, the product needs to go through a line of 5-10 machines for cutting, molding, finishing, etc. to become a full-fledged and finished product. And you need special die, casts and special tools to produce the product. But with 3D printers, everything is simple as the product is created just under minutes from a single printer.

3D printing is also called additive manufacturing and by the name additive, it means adding layers one by one over the other to produce an object. 3D printers also use the same kind of technology as it can create complex shape just by adding layers over layers. With the help of a 3D printer, you can create any kind of shapes including toys, ceramic cups, household things, flower vases and many more.

How does 3D Printing Work?

Imagine sculpting an object from a piece of wood with a knife. You would probably chop the unwanted portions carefully to get the shape you want. But a 3D printer doesn’t remove unwanted materials to reveal a shape but instead acts more like an inkjet printer. But instead of plotting ink on a paper, what it does builds an object layer by layer. Yes, the print head or the nozzle deposits a small amount of molten plastic out to create a layer and a heated build plate keeps it in shape. The process repeats again and again until the model is completed.

When it comes to 3D printing, basically it involves 3 major steps which include:

Preparation

The first step in a 3D printing process is to prepare the printer for the printing process. Before printing, you need to provide the 3D printer with a 3D file that contains the exact specifications of the product to be printed including size, shape, colors, etc. These 3D designs can be created using many types of 3D software or CAD software and then fed to the 3D printer.

Printing

Next step is where the actual printing starts. The important thing that is required for 3D printing is the 3D input file that provides the printer with all the instructions to print the 3D model in the required shape. In order to provide the 3D file, first, the user should make use of some 3D modeling software to create a 3D model of the product to be developed. Then using a slicing software, the 3D model is sliced into hundreds of horizontal layers and builds 3D file containing information about all these 3D layers.

The printer analyzes the 3D file provided and starts building layer by layer according to the specifications in the file. Before printing, the choice of material needs to be selected as 3D printers support printing on various kind of materials including plastic, ceramic, metal, glass, textile, resin, etc.

Finishing

The final step is the finishing process where the final output is provided and you can further add some details you need to create a final finished product.

Types of 3D Printing Technologies

While 3D printers can print various kind of materials, the printing method varies for material to material. Let’s take a look at the printing technologies used based on the selection of materials.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) Technology

FDM printing technology is mainly used when creating products using plastic or alumide materials. FDM technology is one of the most commonly used methodologies. Most of the 3D printers available in the market come equipped with the FDM technology proves that it is the most widely used technology. It is also very much affordable when compared with other popular printing technologies. In this 3D printing technology, the material is first melted and then squeezed through a nozzle to create layers on top of each other according to the specification provided in the 3D file. This process of adding layers continues until the final product is completed. Some 3D printers also come with more than one printer heads to create products in multiple colors.

Direct 3-D Printing

Direct 3D Printing is another technology used in 3D printers that utilize inkjet technology for creating products. Inkjet printers became popular from the 1960s, but the nozzles don’t move back and forth but will be moving up and down and also along the sides. Unlike 2D printers where ink is used for printing, in 3D printers thick wax-like materials and plastic polymers are used as it can be solidified quickly.

Binder 3-D printing

Similar to Direct 3D printing, Binder 3D printers also makes use of inkjet nozzles to gel out the liquid to create layers on top of each other. But unlike Direct 3D printers, where only one kind of material is used, in Binder Jet Printers, two materials combined and come through the nozzle to create a printed layer. The two materials include a kind of liquid glue and fine dry powder and the liquid glue acts as the binder. And in Binder Jet 3D printers, the nozzle makes two passes on every layer as it first sends out the dry powder and the second pass send the binder out. This process repeats until the model is completed according to the specifications. When compared to Direct 3D printing, Binder 3D printing is much faster due to the fact that every time only less material is passed through the nozzle. And also with binder 3D printers, you can create products using various kind of materials including ceramics, metal and also create products using colors as well.

Stereolithography (SLA)

It is another kind of technology in 3D printing when printing using either resin or wax. During the printing process, the build plate moves up and down depositing the liquid polymer resin in small amounts. It is left to expose to the light and the UV laser then creates a cross section and this process is repeated until the product is completed. There are two processes followed here as either by depositing the resin on the bottom and pulling the project from the bottom up or pulling it down while the next layer is created on the top.

Digital Light Processing (DLP)

It is a 3D printing technology much similar to the SLA process, but here instead of the UV laser to cure the resin, a light bulb is used. Like the SLA process, the objects are created by pulling the resin from the bottom that creates some space for uncured resin in the bottom. This allows the formation for the next layer to be pulled upward in the next pass.

Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP)

In this 3D printing technology, UV images are projected repeatedly with the help of a digital light projector into liquid resin through an oxygen permeable. It creates a dead zone above the UV-transparent window that helps in maintaining the liquid interface. And right above the dead zone, the cured resin is pulled out from the resin bath to create the needed object design.

Multijet Printers

These printers are like Stereolithography printers that utilize UV light to cross-link the photopolymer resin. But here instead of scanning the laser to create layers, the printer jet just deposits tiny droplets of the resin to create layers.  The UV lamp fixed to the printer head helps in crosslinking the polymer and holding the shapes of the layer in place. Then the build plate deposits a thick layer on top of the material and this process is repeated until the model is completed.

Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)

DMLS 3D printing process uses laser for the power source in order to sinter or melt the metal powder and creating a cross-section of the layer. This process is repeated until the model is finished. This type of printing is used while printing using metal.

Electron Beam Melting (EBM)

Electron beams are used as a power source in Electron Beam melting 3D printers instead of laser to print metal. Here the electron beam that passes through the metal melts the metal powder and creates layer by layer. Using this printing methodology you can easily create high-density metal products and even retaining the material properties as well.

Selective Deposition Lamination

If you are looking to print using paper, then Selective Deposition Lamination method is used. Here layers are adhesive coated paper are joined together with the help of a heated roller and the shapes are creates using a laser cutter.

Benefits of 3D Printing

The benefits of a 3D printer are endless, and we’ve included only a few below:

  • Faster Production
  • No need to die cast, and special tool
  • A single machine is enough to print a product
  • Better Quality
  • Create products in all shapes and sizes
  • Cost-effective
  • Easily Accessible

3D Printing – Limitations

Even though when you compare the cost of setting up a new factory with all those tools and equipment, buying a 3D printer seems more affordable. But remember the cost you incur to produce a single product is much higher compared to regular production. Hence 3D printers are not much used for mass production of products and you cannot compare the smooth finish obtained through industrial production. But the technology is still being developed and over time the cost of the printers may come down and hope the printing capabilities also improve soon.

Conclusion

3D printing technology is evolving day by day and people are looking forward to this technology keenly. The manufacturers of 3D printers continue innovating new technologies and processes to enhance the capabilities of these printers. When people think of a 3D printer, they just imagine a small desktop printer, but they are way more than that. 3D printers are finding greater use in many industries and are certainly going to change a lot of things. 3D printers are used in various industries including customer goods, health care, technology, industrial goods, etc. and it is estimated that the $12 billion to $21 billion by 2020. And if you are looking to buy a 3D printer, then you need to consider your basic requirements to buy a 3D printer, your budget along with the materials in which you are going to print etc. 3D printing technology is here to stay and has a very bright future. Hope our article about 3D printers and how these mechanisms work has provided you with enough information on these exciting machines of the future. If you are looking to buy these amazing printing machines but tight on the budget then please check out the best 3D printers under 300.

Please post your comments and suggestions in the feedback section along with your experiences with 3D printers. We love to hear from you! Happy 3D printing!

PS: The video below showcase how 3D printing can be so useful for us and it is only just started.

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