“Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.” – Alan Kay (Computer Scientist)
What is 3-D printing?
3-D printing is the process of creating a 3 dimensional object, using a digital file as the source. Even simpler explanation – you could save a car model picture in your computer – and use the 3D printing technology to create an exact real-life car model! It is also called “additive manufacturing” – where an object is created layer by layer. This technology isn’t that new either – it was invented back in 1986 by a man called Chuck Hull. It is the refinement and a large scale commercial and domestic usage of the technology that was refined in the last few years.
What advantages can 3-D printing bring to us?
3-D technology drastically drops the cost and complexity of the overall manufacturing and creation process of the object. Hence a lot of objects can be produced at a fraction of the cost, and even at home! Apart from the cost and ease factor, it also allows one to be able to personalize any product, and also be able to build using the advantages of digital modeling , without the conventional manufacturing process being a constraint anymore. The best example for you to understand this better – would be the aerospace sector, where complex models that could not be manufactured earlier can now be tried by simply having the 3-D digital model and the carbon material, no need to break ones head over how to manufacture such a complex piece of equipment!
How does 3-D printing work?
- Get the Modeling Software
First, you need the Modeling software, so as to be able to create the printable design in your computer. It obviously needs to be a 3D modeling software, so as to create the needed 3D dimensions digitally. Popular modeling software examples would be Blender, SolidWorks, AutoCAD, Maya etc.
- Building the 3D model in your computer
Now that you have the software, you could either build your own 3D model in the computer or visit websites such as Thingiverse, Shapeways, SketchFab and many more paid and even free sites – to download pre-designed 3D models and shapes.
- Getting your 3D Printer
Your object would typically help you decide which 3D printer would be best suited for you. For example, the cheapest 3D printers are simple models, like the Printrbot Simple with Heated Bed or the Cubify Cube 3, which could set you back close to around 800-1,000 USD. The higher end ones which basically help you to do multi-colored and more precise models would cost around 2,000 to 3,000 USD.
- How they work
The printers use a process called filament deposition, which melts plastic filaments and then uses this to deposit thin layers – layer upon layer – that eventually builds up the model.
This is called Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) or also known as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF). There are other technologies that use laser to fuse materials that have a host of other acronyms that I will not confuse you with. It suffices to say that the core process or idea is the same – melt or fuse the plastic or other materials, and post that the melted form is shaped layer by layer using the computer image that the printer uses as the basis for printing the object in its 3D form.
- Practical Uses
3D printing is being used extensively in various industries, here are a few examples:-
- Medicine – has benefitted the most out of this technology. From being able to create prosthetic limbs, hands and arms – to jaws and shells for animals – to even creating internal organs such as livers and kidneys!
- Driving down Costs- Complex geometries and new materials offer superior strength with less mass, potentially saving organizations like NASA boatloads of fuel, and thus money – only possible through 3D printing. Similarly for manufacturing firms – it helps to quickly work out designs, and also prototype and test them
- Enhancing Creativity – the 3D printing technology allows artists and others alike to turn their creative ideas into reality very quickly and easily. It also allows children and adults alike to visualize concepts, create functional products and learn through a hands on experience
On conclusion, some have termed this invention akin to humans creating the wheel – and it’s clear that we are onto something big that will change the way we work and live forever. Like in all cases, we hope that the technology is used in the correct manner, and it helps saves a lot more lives and improves our daily productivity!
An article by Sourov Roy