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What is 3D printer?

Introduction - 3D Printing

3D printing is a manufacturing technology that was invented in the 1980s. It has since evolved from being a rapid prototyping tool to full-fledged manufacturing technology. The evolution has been revolutionary leading to its adoption in a variety of sectors from automotive to aerospace, from healthcare to sports and from defense to fashion. The industrial term for 3D printing is additive manufacturing since the material is continuously added to manufacture an object (as opposed to subtractive processes like cutting, milling, and machining). We introduce you to this rapidly growing revolutionary manufacturing technology.

What is 3D Printing?

3D printing is a manufacturing technology that converts a CAD design into a three-dimensional solid object by successively laying down thin layers of materials one on top of another. In simple terms, it converts a virtual design into a physical object.

3D Printing workflow

The 3D printing workflow includes a series of steps that are essential to manufacturing an object. Below is the 3D printing workflow:

  • CAD Model
    • This is the first step towards 3D printing. It is the most vital element for 3D printing without which an object cannot be manufactured. A CAD model is created in a 3D modeling software (like Solidworks, Onshape, Rhino, etc.). Alternatively, a CAD model can also be obtained through reverse engineering by using a 3D scanner or through an online resource such as Thingiverse or GrabCAD. This CAD model is required to be compatible with 3D printing design rules to be able to be used for 3D printing.
  • Slicing Software
    • This is the second step in the 3D printing process and involves converting the CAD (or more often an STL file) into a file the 3D printer can read. The CAD model is imported into slicing software. The slicing software controls a range of parameters that can result in better 3D printing output. In most “slicers” you’ll find a visual representation of how the print will appear on the build plate so that you can properly orient it for best results. Some of the parameters that can be controlled are layer height, speed, temperature, raft layer adhesion, etc.
  • 3D Print
    • This is the final step to complete the 3D printing process. The sliced file from the slicer software is sent to the 3D printer. Now with just the press of a button, the 3D printer will start printing the object in a layer by layer form until the object / prototype is complete.
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Categories of 3D Printing

The ASTM classifies all 3D printing technologies into seven categories namely material extrusion, vat photopolymerization, powder bed fusion, material jetting, binder jetting, directed energy deposition & sheet lamination. As we continue down the road of “what is 3D printing” here are some of the most popular technologies:

This is a material extrusion type of 3D printing technology. We, Fabforge is one of the leading manufacturers of FDM 3D printers. FDM 3D printers use thermoplastic polymer material in a filament form that is heated and deposited onto a build platform in a layer by layer form to form the complete object.

Stereolithography (SLA) was the first-ever patented 3D printing technology to be developed and commercialized. It falls under the vat photopolymerization category of 3D printing technology. It uses a photosensitive liquid resin material that is cured by a laser. The laser cures the resin point by point in a continuous process to ultimately form the entire object. Digital light processing (DLP) is a similar technology that uses projected UV light in place of a laser which can result in faster printing.

Other technologies like Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), Selective Laser Melting (SLM), and Electronic Beam Melting (EBM) operate on a similar principle of powdered materials being fused with lasers (electron beam instead of a laser in case of EBM).