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What is a 3D Printer

What the Printer! Yeah that's what should have been you first reaction after knowing about 3D printers. A 3D printer is a device which can print physical 3D objects. 3D printers has left behind a generation of printers whose maximum capability was to print a given object on a piece of paper. A whole new dimension has been added to the printing technology - the 3rd dimension.

3d printer
Photo Credit: Cubex Printer

Difinition of 3D printing

  • 3D printing is a process of making a three dimensional object of any shape imaginable by using a CAD software model. 3D printing is achieved using a technique called as additive manufacturing.

  • Additive Manufacturing refers to a process by which digital 3D design data is used to build up a component in layers by depositing material one upon the other vertically.

  • It can print in plastic, metal, nylon, and over a hundred other materials. It can not only print 3D solid objects but can also print 3D moving parts.

    Need of a 3D printer

  • Well, now say if your vacuum cleaner or a dish washer stops working, and the part or the component that is damaged is rare and difficult to find it in market. In that case, you should not worry. Just turn on your computer, design the part in simple CAD software and print it out for yourself.

  • Or one day you are bored of looking at the same showpiece kept in your main room. Now instead of going through some retail store or looking for some showpieces online, what you could do is design your own showpiece and print it out. Or if you are not familiar with designing, just download file from thousands of file available on 3D printing community and get it printed. Cant get ore simpler, right?

  • Or, if not anything else, you are hungry and do not have anything in your refrigerator to eat, well print out your favorite food. Yeah! That is now possible. Many restaurants have made this a special service to print out your favorite food in front of you. The material used in such food printers is completely edible.

    food printer
    Printer printing food items

    History of 3D printers

    3D printer is not a invention of the decade. The concept of 3D printer has been for a while now. Only it took some time for its commercialization. Well, let us see some of the important dates in the making of 3D printer a reality.
    • In 1986, Charles Hull founded 3D Systems and developed the first commercial 3D Printing machine, it was named as Stereolithography Apparatus.

    • In 1988, Scott Crump invented Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM).

    • In 1991, Helisys sold its first laminated object manufacturing (LOM) system.

    • In 1992, DTM sold its first selective laser sintering (SLS) system.

    So what is this Additive process

  • As mentioned earlier, 'Additive Manufacturing' refers to a process by which digital 3D design data is used to build up a component in layers by depositing material one upon the other.

  • It is like building a brick house. The bricks are kept one upon the other in additive fashion. Printing 3D models is somewhat in a similar way. The only difference is that each slice is very thin and hence gives accuracy to the model being printed.

    food printer

  • This is opposite of 'Subtractive Manufacturing' which works on removal of material to create a desired object. It is similar to a man who cuts a stone to create a sculpture.

    Digital CAD file

  • With the regular printers, we print the image, text or other graphics on a piece of paper. The file required for printing these diagrams also gives us the imagery in 2-dimension. But for 3D printers, we need a 3-dimensional representation.

  • For this purpose, we use CAD (Computer Aided Design) diagrams. These diagrams are produced in CAD tools. For example, software like AutoCAD 3d OR Microsoft Visio or printer customized softwares could be helpful in making these diagrams. If one doesn't know how to render these diagrams, a huge library of thousands of such 3D designs are available on the internet for free.

    food printer

    Commercial 3D printers

  • The concept of 3D printer is now almost 3 decades old. But yes it took some quality time for its commercialization. Now, since these printers are available to public, they are not that wide spread due to its cost and some other drawbacks.

  • Nevertheless 3D printers are slowly making its presence in this industrial era and promise to penetrate its share in the life of common man as well.

    Advantages of 3D printer

  • Material variations: Not all the 3D printers are meant to print plastic. Some of the modern 3D printers are capable of printing varied materials. These includes printing materials like brass, ceramic, steel etc.

  • Varied Colors: Unlike the early 3D printers with just one head, today's 3D printers come with multiple heads. Each head is capable of giving one color to the object. With multiple head, it is noe possible to create more realistic 3D models.

  • Savings in long run: 3D printing can provide savings in long run because it avoids repeated designing costs.

  • Focus elsewhere: With 3D printers, big corporations will no longer have to set huge manufacturing plants for product manufacturing. ALl they will have to do is print it out using one of the 3D printers.

  • Simultaneous manufacturing: Modern printers come with multiple printer beds. Each bed is used for printing one or more objects at a time. With multiple printer beds, this rate can further be improved.

    Drawbacks of a 3D printer

  • Usability: While there are websites that offer thousands of free designs, it is not comfortable up to the mark that it could be used by an average hobbyist.

  • Time: Currently 3D printers take up to much time in manufacturing a small product. Meaning, the speed of printing is slow. Some of the objects with high resolution or big in size can take upto few days or even weeks to get it completely printed.

  • No mass manufacturing: As of now it cannot be used for mass production in industry due to its high cost per product parameter.

  • Cost: As of now cost of purchase, set up and installation of 3D printers is very high. A basic 3D good 3D printers ould easily cost you thousands of dollars. This makes it difficult for common man to play arond with it at homes.

    Applications of 3D printing

  • Medical: One of the most important applications of 3D printing is in the medical field. Now doctors can print artificial human parts and successfully implant it in Human bodies. Well heres and example of 3D printed spine:

    food printer
    3D Printed Human Spine

  • Automobiles3D printing is is again useful for the automobile industry. Manufacturing individual parts can be a tedious job for automobile companies. Now, by using a 3D printer, they can print out the parts on demand, thus saving resources and generating less waste.

  • Education: In the field of education, 3D printers can be actively used to print our and demonstrate solid and moving objects, and instantly use it for learning purpose.

  • Others: Other applications include using 3D printers in the field of architecture, consumer-product industries, jewellery, footwear, industrial design,automotive, aerospace, dental, engineering and construction, geographic information systems, civil engineering.

    The Future of 3D Printing

    3d Printers are here to stay for long. In fact they have just started to make a mark in our day-to-day life. With 3D printers technically progressing, is day will come when each of us will carry a portable 3D printer and use it on the go. One would be able to print (or manufacture) anything one would wish to. And believe me, this day isn't far away. To all those who are using these printers and to all those who will be using it in near future, i would just say, Happy Printing!

    Some of the 3d Printed Objects

    food printer food printer food printer
    food printer food printer food printer

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