3D printing is now a technology that is becoming more and more popular and has many applications for both individuals and industry. What are its fields of action? How does a 3D printer work? These are all questions that deserve to be answered.
What is 3D printing?
3D printing refers to a technique for manufacturing objects or parts in 3 dimensions. It consists of the progressive addition of material during production and manufacturing.
3D printing uses a method known as additive, which is opposed to the manufacturing method known as subtractive by laser cutting or machining, which generates waste.
The object or part is thus shaped progressively as the layers of material are superimposed. The 3D printing technique is made possible by the latest generation of printers which allow the production of realistic and solid 3D objects and parts.
The most common material used in 3D printing is PLA, which is a biological plastic. However, it is necessary to know how 3D printing works before using it. While the use of 3D printing is widespread among individuals and hobbyists, professionals are also embracing large format 3D printing in their various activities and changing the way businesses operate.
How does a 3D printer work?
There are several technologies involved in the operation of a 3D printer and the printing of an object. Although the techniques differ, the principle is basically the same and consists of adding material, layer by layer, taking into account width, depth and height. The printer's parameters are set using data transmitted by a 3D file.
Depending on the material used and the way in which the layers are deposited and processed, there are three main processes:
- The material deposition technique.
- Solidification by light.
- Agglomeration by gluing.
Having seen how a 3D printer works, we are entitled to ask ourselves the following questions: Which are the best 3D printers on the market? and Which 3D printer should I choose?
What can you print with a 3D printer?
3D printing allows you to make different objects. However, a distinction must be made between use by individuals and by professionals. Let us introduce you to the possibilities offered by 3D printing:
- Decorative objects: 3D printing can allow individuals to design various decorative objects such as vases, lamps, sculptures, paintings or furniture.
- Toys: 3D printers allow the manufacture of toys in materials that allow the creation of realistic figurines such as statuettes in the likeness of a person or inspired by a photograph.
- Small everyday items: 3D printing allows the creation of everyday items such as mobile phone covers, key rings or even tableware.
- Model making: 3D printers make model making easy. 3D printing makes it possible to reproduce buildings such as the Sagrada Familia, the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower. The process favours the manufacture of various models and models of boats, planes or cars.
Large format 3D printing is one of the most common uses for professionals in various fields. It is therefore easy to understand how 3D printing will revolutionise the way companies operate.
- Industry: Industry is a vast field that is conducive to the use of 3D printing. It can be found in many industries as diverse as automotive, aerospace and food. From design to manufacturing and production of parts, industry is a key player in using this technology with various materials.
- Medicine: In the world of medicine, 3D printers allow the manufacture of prostheses. Health sectors such as dental and hearing surgery use them to manufacture prostheses. The 3D printer is also proving particularly effective in the field of disability, allowing the manufacture of various prostheses such as hands or forearms. Medicine also uses 3D printing techniques to make customised medical implants or to produce organs or bones that will be used in surgery.
- Advertising and marketing: In the world of advertising and marketing, 3D printing is ubiquitous and provides many services. Machines can be used to print objects as diverse as shop signs, products for events such as trade fairs, POS material for commercial use or even trophies for sportsmen.
- Prototyping: Prototyping is the process of making prototypes. Prototypes are the first copies of a product. Their production allows us to see the feasibility of a project before it is mass-produced. Prototyping can involve objects such as shoes, a car, etc.
- Architecture and museography: 3D printing is a great tool for architectural work, as it allows models and construction projects to be created that clients can visualise by seeing the volumes. The technology promotes quality and precision work through models with detailed finishes. House models and buildings can be represented in resin to get a realistic idea of the structure. For museography: missing parts to reconstruct extinct animals can be made to help the general public understand the issues.
Also read for professionals: How to choose a 3D printing service provider?
The stages of 3D printing
It is important to ask yourself what the stages of 3D printing are, as this will help you to know how to choose a 3D printing provider? Make sure that the 3D printing steps proposed by the provider meet the following timeline:
The creation of the model consists of creating a 3D file which is usually in STL or OBJ format. Depending on the case, there are different ways of creating a file:
- Drawing the file from scratch.
- Scanning the file from an existing object.
- Downloading a file online (paid or free).
Preparing for 3D printing:
- For the preparation of the 3D printing, it is necessary:
- Equip the print head of the 3D printer with the nozzle according to the desired size. This depends on the type of part required.
- Install the filament spools.
- Transform the STL or OBJ file into gcode format using printing software such as Cura, Slic3r or Simplify3D, the resulting file being a sequence of movement instructions usable by the printer.
Launching and printing in 3D:
The process leading to the launch and 3D printing is as follows:
- The printer will heat up the platen and nozzle and then the printing will start.
- The print head will melt the filament and lay it down layer by layer to create a three dimensional object.
- The duration of the 3D printing process will depend on the shape and volume of the model being printed, the material chosen and the printing parameters.
Finishing and painting:
Regarding finishing and painting, there are several options:
- A part can be left raw at the print output.
- A part can have supports to be removed depending on its shape.
- A part can be sanded, primed, resprayed and painted.
Our advice on how to carry out a 3D print
In order to carry out a 3D print as well as possible, we would like to give you some precious advice in the form of questions to ask yourself:
- What are the best software packages on the market for 3D printing?
The answer to this question is not the most obvious, as there are countless 3D printing software packages. Indeed, most printers are equipped with their own specific software. However, for open source machines, the most commonly used software is Simplify3D, Cura, Prusa or Slic3r for example. It is up to you to adapt the software to your skills and printing needs depending on the printers you have.
- How do I paint a 3D print?
You should know that painting a 3D print is similar to painting any plastic. The same process must be repeated, namely sanding, priming, re-sanding and finally painting the part. This is the only way to get a perfect finish and produce quality parts.
- Which plastic to buy for a 3D printer?
The choice of plastic and the selection of material depends on the part you want, but it also has to take into account the capabilities of the printer. There are many different materials available, from the classic PLA, to carbon, wood, copper or rubber filaments. Each material requires adjustments to the nozzles, the printing speed or the printing temperature. Depending on these different parameters, the selection can be made to achieve the desired result.
To go further in reading this guide: What is the cost of 3D printing?