How Does 3D Printing Actually Work and What Can You Make?
With a range of industries, from healthcare, automotive, engineering, food and construction, increasingly taking advantage of the benefits of 3D printing the technology has become interesting to enthusiasts and hobbyists too. If you have ever wondered exactly how it works, you’re not alone. In this article, we’ve outlined how the technology works and what you can make with 3D printing.
What is 3D printing?
3D printing is a process used to create three-dimensional objects. It uses design software called CAD (Computer Aided Design), where a model’s size and dimensions are created. The CAD file is then uploaded to a 3D printer, where it is processed. It then creates the object layer by layer in accordance with the software’s instructions.
What materials can you use with 3D printing?
The most common material used in 3D printing is plastic, but the number of materials that it can use is growing. We are now seeing metals, carbon fibres, powdered materials, graphite, graphene, and resins being used with the technology. When in contact with high temperatures, these materials melt during the sintering process. Wood, cloth, and paper burn in the heat so are not ideal for this method of 3D printing.
What can you make with 3D printing?
One of the main attractions of 3D printing is its flexibility. With the choice of so many different materials, plus its software capabilities, there is an infinite number of products and parts that can be made with 3D printing. Strong industrial objects like components or car parts are made using metal and 3D printing, malleable objects can be produced using rubber and plastic phone cases, and more solid products like glasses frames can also be made with plastic and 3D printing.
Most common 3D printed objects
Manufacturing and prototyping
3D printing has been used for making prototypes in manufacturing for many years. Using prototypes to add new features and test the design and functionality of a product is more cost-effective than producing products with potential faults on a mass scale. Some manufacturers also use 3D printing for small batches and bespoke products.
Parts for the aviation and automotive sectors
3D printing technology is also used for making aeroplanes and vehicle parts. Its high precision is useful for creating both parts and prototypes both industries depend on. In the car industry, it is often used to create a proof of concept vehicles and prototyping, as well as the creation of customer seats, dashboards, spare parts for classic cars, manufacturing tools and brackets. In aircraft design, precision is a critical factor too. Parts and components have been made through additive manufacturing for many years, helping to ensure a high level of accuracy, as well as stronger and lighter parts ideal for aircraft. The industry was one of the first to use 3D printing, and it accounts for a significant proportion of the technology’s global revenue figures.
3D technology offers several benefits to the construction industry, for example, customizing house builds, reducing the length of the typical construction supply chain and making way for the easier installation of pipes and electrical fixtures in a home. It is no wonder then that the industry is looking to 3D printing more and more to produce more cost-effective and sustainable homes. When building entire houses, construction 3D printers use polymer, metal and concrete-like, and even waste materials which are processed through nozzles layer after layer, often using a robotic arm. The reduced need for labour means costs can be lowered, and the minimal waste produced helps with sustainability more than conventional construction methods. Here are some interesting examples of 3D printed houses.
Health and medical
The health and medical industries are no strangers to 3D printing either, and has already been used in the fields of oncology, prosthetics, orthopedics, and radiology. It has also been used to create medical and dental devices such as dentures, bridges, and inhalers. It has also been useful for specialist consultants in pre-operative planning, e.g., making anatomical models from MRI scans to help surgeons understand more about a patient ahead of a procedure.
The food industry
Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, 3D printing has entered the world of cuisine. Although it is still in the early stages, there are now many different types of 3D food printers available on the market, and there are even exclusive 3D printing restaurants! The usual process for printing food is through the material extrusion of pastes such as mousses and highly viscous products. Have a look at these 3D printed pastries, pasta dishes and chocolate creations.
As 3D printing technology has matured, it has become more sophisticated and is now able to produce a variety of different consumer products. Shoe designs, jewellery, novelty items and toys to name but a few.