3D Printing includes a myriad of processes and technologies that create products made of an equally diverse range of materials. While the technologies may differ, the process remains the same. 3D printing creates products through the additive process of layering material to build up the component. This process diverges from traditional methods of production that utilize molding/casting or other subtractive means.
New 3D printing applications emerge nearly every day. This technological advancement is more popular than ever within the consumer, manufacturing, and industrial sectors. The increasing popularity is believed to be only the beginning of its success.
How Does It Work?
The 3D printing process implements layer upon layer of molten plastic or other materials to form the intended object. Once a layer is dispersed, it sets, and the next layer is added on top. These successive layers build upon each other to form the end product.
A 3D printer functions much like a standard ink printer. A digital file is created and instead of ink, the printer deposits a layer of material. G-code files are the most common file format for the digital blueprint. This is the same programming language used for CNC machines. The file contains the coordinates to guide the printer, both horizontally and vertically. These are also called the X, Y, and Z axes.
The process of a 3D printer will assign a specific thickness to each layer. This is called layer height. Just as with pixels on a standard paper printer, or on your computer display, more layers create a higher resolution. Many layers create a superior product, but they do take longer to print.
There are a variety of software programs and materials utilized in modern 3D printing. The raw materials come in different forms to accommodate different purposes. The materials may be in powder, filaments, granules, resin, pellets, or another format.
Types of 3D Printing Technology
There are a variety of 3D printer technologies to suit different applications. Here are some of the most common:
SLA 3D printing uses a UV-curable resin that is dispensed into a container with a glass bottom. The build platform is submerged. A laser focuses UV light selectively, only hardening specific areas during the build. A platform raises from the container as the component is printed.
SLS 3D printing generally implements a powdered polymer. The powder is placed in a container and a blade or roller disperses a thin layer onto the build. Lasers fuse the small particles until a horizontal layer is formed. The container then moves to allow the dispersal of the next layer. The process repeats until the product is formed.
SLM is also referred to as laser sintering or laser melting. Both terms refer to a process that works with powdered material. A laser traces across a tightly compacted bed of powder. When the laser interacts with the bed’s surface, it fuses particles to form a solid mass. The bed drops incrementally as each new layer is formed. A roller smooths the powder’s surface in preparation for the laser’s next pass. The process repeats until the product is formed.
The process is similar to direct metal laser sintering. It forms parts by using an electron beam instead of a laster to melt the metal powder. The process is done within a vacuum environment.
This system uses paper, plastic, or metal laminates that are adhesive-coated. These sheets are glued together in layers, which are then cut into shape by a knife or laser.
The potential materials used in the 3D printing process are as varied as the printers and processes. They include:
- Carbon Fiber
3D Printing Benefits and Applications
3D printing offers an extensive list of benefits for a range of applications. 3D printing for manufacturing can create incredibly complex shapes while requiring less material. New concepts or ideas can easily translate into an actual component through 3D printing. Customization is virtually limitless and can be done to your exact specifications. The process is entirely sustainable and produces the least amount of waste possible.
3D printing is ideal for a wide array of applications. They include:
- Rapid Prototyping
- 3D printing Prototypes
- Manufacturing Tools
- Manufacturing Parts
The industries currently using 3D printing are equally as diverse. They include:
- Healthcare, Medicine, and Pharmaceuticals
- Consumer products
- Apparel and Jewelry
General Machine & Experimental Works is a full-service machine shop that has provided excellent customer service since 1954. We offer CNC machining, welding and grinding, as well as precision milling and drilling. We stock a spectrum of materials and alloys to suit our clients’ needs. To learn more about our 3D printing capabilities, contact us for a quote or for further information.