What is 3D Printing and How 3D Printer Works?
3D printing is an innovative technology that allows creating a physical object from the digital model. Its story began in the 1980s when printing was called “fast prototyping” and was applied only at production sites. Many things have changed since that time and today 3D printers show fantastic results and allow creating anything you can imagine, from parts for the ISS to culinary masterpieces.
How did 3D printing arise?
People learned what a 3D printer was back in 1986 – even before they started to use the World Wide Web. At that time Charles Hull, the inventor of the first additive printer, worked as a production engineer in Ultra Violet Products based in California. The company produced UV-curing resin for coating furniture.
One could not even dream about high speed of operation at that time – testing of even the smallest details required months of work, as the development of test samples took too much time. Many companies started to relocate production facilities to countries with low-cost labor to minimize expenditures somehow. It was then that Hull began thinking about how to optimize production.
Of course, he did not succeed in the first attempt. The inventor had no luck in picking a method that would reduce the production time of one component part. One of his ideas was to overlay several hundred layers of plastics and shape them in a certain way using ultraviolet. It was a way to create a relatively cheap prototype quickly. Hull went to the management of UVP with this idea. Of course, he was not allowed to work on the invention during work time but was given a premise and equipment for experiments.
In a year of overtime work, the inventor developed the first prototype of the electrolytic 3D printer. He worked with a photopolymer – a substance that can change its state from fluid to solid when exposed to ultraviolet rays. Hull even learned to code in order to program the printer for the creation of the prototype of a certain geometric figure.
The first creation of Hull was a small plastic cup. Hull wanted to give the patent for the 3D printer to the company, but it did not have funds to finance the project back then.
“The situation reached the point when I got the patent for the 3D printer in 1986. And I went to the head of the company and said, “We need to find a commercial use for this thing.” And he answered, “Of course, but we cannot afford it.” I had no choice, so I decided to set up my own company. This was the beginning of 3D Systems,” Hull shared.
3D Systems still works today and remains the leader of the global additive technologies market. The inventor is 79 years old now and he keeps working hard for the benefit of people. “My work is too interesting to quit,” Hull said in the interview for CNN.
“In the late 1990s, I retired though. A new manager took over my position, but in about three months he called me and said, “Charles, things should not be like this. Can you come back and solve some technical problems? Will you be our chief technical specialist?” Since then I have been there, and keep doing interesting things,” the inventor says.
Currently, Hull and his company focus on programmable systems for pressure-die casting that will allow printing objects without making a preliminary design of shapes.
What is 3D printing now? 3D modeling
3D printing is the process of building three-dimensional solid objects based on digital models. 3D printing is also called additive manufacturing, as unlike the traditional subtractive production, 3D printing does not remove the material but adds it layer by layer.
Today the work with a printer starts from the development of a 3D model using the computer. Many 3D modeling programs are available free of charge.
The next step after the creation of the 3D model is to make it suitable for 3D printing. This process is called slicing meaning that the 3D model is sliced in hundreds or thousands of horizontal layers.
Once the 3D model is “sliced”, it can be sent to the 3D printer. As soon as the file uploads, the object is ready to be 3D printed. The object is built by laying consecutive layers of material. Each layer can be reviewed as a thin horizontal cut of the end product.
What material is used for printing?
Today two main materials in the 3D printing plastics market are PLA and ABS plastics.
ABS stands for acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. It is the material formed in the result of the polymerization of those substances. Approximately two kilograms of oil are needed to produce one kilogram of ABS plastics. Some types of this plastics can decompose under the influence of sunlight, which once even became a reason for the large-scale return of a series of cars to the production site in the USA.
Similarly to thermoplastic resin, such plastics can be recycled. Therefore, packages made of ABS are marked by the international recycling sign – a triangle formed by three black arrows.
ABS plastics is used to produce the following items:
- disposable tableware;
- sports equipment (hula hoops, dumbbells, kettlebells);
- cases and parts of different products (for smartphones, shaving sticks, decorative components, tools);
- car parts;
- details and cases of products with metalized base;
- electrical components;
- toys and construction kits;
- plastic boxes;
- plastic furniture and accessories;
- plastic bank cards.
The main competitor of ABS plastics is PLA plastics.
PLA or biodegradable plastics is an aliphatic polyether with lactic acid monomer. Such plastics is called bio-compatible, as the main materials for its production are quickly renewable resources. They are mainly sugar cane or maize, but sometimes the production of biodegradable plastics involves such renewable materials as starch (potato, corn, tapioca – starchy cereal made from fleshy roots of manioca), soya protein, or cellulose.
All these materials are not harmful or toxic in production and after being used they split into carbon dioxide and water or ecologically-friendly biomass (in the case of composting).
The main advantage of PLA plastics is being non-toxic. Consequently, it can be safely used to make toys and other products that do not pose a direct threat to human health, for example, disposable tableware.
Besides, PLA plastics has a lower softening temperature of filament (around 190°C) and print temperature (from 210 to 250°C) as compared to ABS plastics, so the work with PLA is less energy-consuming. Moreover, there is no need to use Kapton (a material for lubricating the surface, on which a prototype is built up) in PLA 3D printing. And there is no need to heat the print bed for the 3D printed object to peel off successfully.
A more modern material for 3D printing is considered nylon. The material has shown high resistance to the impact of the wide range of solvents and chemicals. Nylon is successfully used in various industries:
- medicine (for repair and replacement of bones and production of strong individual prostheses with creative punched design);
- to produce product prototypes using CNC machines (using printed nylon blocks) or to improve readymade printed nylon prototypes with the help of CNC machines;
- to print connecting elements for metal structures;
- in foundry production (to produce casting forms by creating a model needed to print the form in STL, or to transform a certain model in the digital G code that can be processed by a 3D printer);
- electrochemical industry (to create battery separators and polymer batteries);
- to produce musical instruments and parts (nylon strings, picks, etc.).
3D printing in Russia
3D printers offer endless opportunities and for this reason, they are becoming a common tool for such areas as cookery, medicine, design, prototyping, and architecture.
On October 4 and 5, our company hosts 3D Print Expo, the exhibition of additive technologies and 3D scanning in Moscow.
At 3D Print Expo, enthusiasts and talented developers will have a possibility to find investors and business partners, and beginners will get to know more about the technology and spend time with their families. Here attendees will see a marathon of exhibitions, lectures, presentations, and workshops, and we hope that this will inspire them for even more productive work with additive technologies.