How 3D Printing Works: 7 Frequently Asked Questions
3D printing is everywhere these days. We hear about it on the radio, we see it on TV, some of us might even have access to it in our homes, but yet very few of us understand how it actually works. Offering a new generation of device that we can use to produce everyday things, 3D printers are extraordinary because they can construct different kinds of objects, in different materials, all from the same machine.
From ceramic cups, to metal machine parts, and likely even human body parts in the near future, 3D printing is going to become an increasingly integral part of how we create objects. It is important to have a basic understanding of how this technology works in order to keep abreast of new developments and new opportunities as they arise.
1. Why is it called printing?
First things first, it is important to start with the basics. 3D printing works just like any other kind of printing, but this is usually something we take for granted. If you were able to examine any regular printed text paper, you would realize that instead of staining the paper, the letters on the page are actually sitting on top.
According to this logic, if you simply printed over that same page a few thousand times, eventually the ink would build up enough layers on top of each other to create a solid 3D model of each letter. That is the basic idea for how the first 3D printer originated.
2. How do 3D printers work?
Of course, for all their similarities, there are also plenty of differences between how 3D printers and standard paper printers work. How 3D printing works is that you begin by designing a 3D object on an ordinary home PC, you then basically just connect it to a 3D printer, press ‘print’ and then sit back and watch.
All about watching the layers comes together, 3D printing is just the process of creating layer upon layer and gluing them together one by one. Built from the bottom up, the many deposits finally come together to form a solid object.
3. How do you maintain the integrity of the object?
Essentially, 3D printing is all about leaving gaps in the right places. Each tiny layer needs to be completed with accuracy and precision in order for the whole project to end up working in a coherent manner. Each layer can be very complex, meaning 3D printers can create moving parts like hinges and wheels as part of the same object.
For example, using a 3D printer, you would be able to build a bike from start to finish without even needs any tools. You could do the handlebars, saddle, frame, wheels, brakes, pedals and chain, ready assembled upon completion. Each one of those little breaks in the object contributes to the proper functioning of the overall final product.
4. What are the opportunities?
The opportunities for 3D printing are huge. At the same time, their capacity for simple fixes is also a big part of what contributed to their utility. You no doubt have something laying around the house that you’d like to be able to fix, but maybe realized that a part you need isn’t available anymore. 3D printing allows you to easily create a new piece at home, with less waste, packaging and pollution.
5. How much can I customize the object?
When it comes to your ability to customize, the sky is the limit. How 3D print works is that every object has the potential to be adjusted to your exact requirements. That means you can build everything from furniture made to fit the exact requirement of your home to shoes made to fit your unique feet. Cheaper and more accessible than ever before, 3D printing brings affordable, bespoke manufacturing to the masses.
6. What are the limitations?
Nothings is perfect, and despite the many opportunities that 3D printing presents, it has yet to be perfected. There is no doubt that buying a 3D printer is much cheaper than setting up a factory, but all things considered, the cost per item you produce is higher.
For the time being, the economics of 3D printing don’t stack-up against traditional mass production. Most 3D printing creations also don’t quite stack up against the smooth finish of industrial machines, nor offer the variety of materials available through industrial processes. Nevertheless, the technology is only improving and we’re sure to see more and more from 3D printers as time goes on.
7. Is 3D printing the next big thing?
Like virtually all new technologies when they first appear on the market, the industry hype is a few years ahead of the consumer reality. Although you will certainly hear plenty of people preaching the virtue of 3D printing, the outcomes remain to be seen. Then again, we might be looking back in a few years and wondering how we ever managed without them.