What exactly is 3D printing? What is 3D printing and how does it work? What is 3D printing used for nowadays? Do you need one?
I often hear a lot of questions about 3D printing and I understand. 3D printing technology is experiencing growing popularity because of its wide array of applications.
This technology is very helpful in business, education, medicine, construction and more industries.
I understand that you want to have a depth understanding of 3D printing purposes and I’m here to assist you.
I’ll address most of the concerns related to 3D printing to help you understand this innovative technology that is bound to change how things operate today for the better.
I’m pretty sure you will be pleased once you get to know more about it. Actually, being impressed with this technology is an understatement because it is mind-blowing.
The 3D printing industry is growing because 3D printing technologies are superb. So, let’s get started!
What Is 3D Printing And Its Types?
Let’s start by defining 3D printing. You are probably asking yourself, “What is the concept of 3D printing?”
3D printing or three-dimensional printing is an additive manufacturing process that creates a physical object from a digital design.
As the name suggests, it creates a three-dimensional object. You can think of it as the opposite of a subtractive manufacturing process.
In the latter, a final design is cut from a larger block of material. With additive manufacturing, the material is built layer by layer and it creates less material wastage.
3D printing has many applications because it produces something that you can touch and use. They are popularly used for rapid prototyping because they work fast, cut costs, and enable you to alter the design conveniently.
With 3D printing, you only need to alter the model or its digital file and feed it to the 3D printer to get the new object. And voila! you will see the changes you made, whether it’s minimal or not, once the 3D printing machine is done with the job.
What Is 3D Printing In Simple Words?
If it’s still difficult for you to understand, you can also think of it this way — it uses a 3D printer that works like the regular inkjet printer.
The latter uses ink to print text, graphics, and images that can be used for brochures, flyers, or documents.
3D printing materials are plastic or filament. The printer will melt the plastic and forms the object based on the 3D model layer by layer so that you will end up with a three-dimensional object in your hand.
Yes, 3D printing delivers an object with weight, height, and volume. You can touch it and even use it. You can 3D print a desk organizer and it will work as it should.
You can also 3D print tools like scissors, pliers, hammers or wrenches and expect them to serve their purpose. Yes, 3D printing is that powerful!
So, what is the objective of 3D printing? To deliver a 3D-printed object that you can touch, feel and use!
If you have a 3D printer and need something, not on hand, let the machine do its magic. It can give you anything you need, provided that you have the 3D model for that object.
What Benefits Does 3D Printing Provide?
• Cuts cost
• Reduces waste
• Fast turn around time
• Makes customization easy and convenient
There are different types of 3D printers and they work differently — Fused Deposition Modeling FDM and Selective Laser Sintering SLS
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
FDM is widely used type of 3D printing at the consumer level.
It works by extruding filaments such as ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), PLA (Polylactic Acid) through a heated nozzle.
It melts the material and applies the plastic layer by layer to a build platform until the part is complete.
FDM 3D printers are well-suited for basic proof-of-concept models and quick and low-cost prototyping of simple parts.
SLA 3D Printing (SLA)
Stereolithography was the world’s first 3D printing technology.
It was invented in the 1980s and remained one of the most popular technologies for professionals.
SLA 3D printers use a laser or UV light to cure liquid resin into hardened plastic in a process called photopolymerization
SLA resin 3D printers are very popular for producing highly-detailed prototypes with smooth surfaces.
Also, its formulation offers you a wide range of optical, mechanical, and thermal properties to match the standard, engineering, and industrial thermoplastics.
It is widely used in engineering and product design to manufacturing, dentistry, jewelry, model design, and education.
You might also hear about selective laser sintering, direct metal laser sintering, metal laser sintering dmls, digital light processing, selective laser melting and more in when it comes to 3D printing. If you are interested in these terms, check this out.
What Is The Basic Principle Of 3D Printing?
All 3D printers work similarly because they are built with the same basic principle — it starts with a digital model and will be molded by adding the material layer by layer.
Compared to the traditional manufacturing technologies like subtractive (CNC machining) and formative (injection molding), 3D printing is a totally different technique in producing parts.
Here are some principles of 3D printing from BotFeeder.
In traditional manufacturing, complex design costs more. However, that’s not the case with 3D printing because a 3d printing machine can produce complex items while cutting the overhead cost of retaining human operators or retooling factory machines.
Fast time-to-market turnaround
Consumers want products that cater to their personal needs that’s why “personalization” and “customization” have become key terms in marketing.
You would want a shoe that fits perfectly on your feet, which may not be comfortable for others. You would want a personalized diet that may not be the best for others.
3D printing enables businesses to meet that the consumers’ demand by reducing the design-to-production times.
Designers will design the CAD software based on the consumer’s profile, use the 3D model to evaluate the design and production, and test it. Once it’s good, 3D print it. The whole 3D printing process will only take days.
No assembly needed
3D printing enables you to print objects with interlocked parts in one go. Traditionally, factories would make identical objects that are assembled by robots or humans. The longer it takes to assemble the item, the more expensive it becomes.
With 3D printing, you can print an item with interlocking hinges, so you don’t have to assemble it.
With this, supply chains will be shortened and you can cut the cost significantly because you do not need to pay that much for labor and transportation (when the items are produced in different places and will be transported for assembly).
Ability to print-on-demand
3D printing is very popular because it makes customization so easy. Yes, you can print on demand when it is required. It enables you to cater to your individual customer’s request without the additional cost of long-distance shipping and extensive labor because iteration isn’t that difficult and won’t take that long.
3D printers come in different sizes. Some of them are lightweight and small, so you can freely move them around when needed. You can 3D print wherever you are.
Precise physical replication
3D printing is very accurate. You can replicate anything no matter what it is as long as you have the digital file. From there, you can 3D print it to bring it to the real world.
Thanks to this technology, you can scan, edit and duplicate objects to create replicas or improve them.
What Are The 3 Stages Of 3D Printing?
3D printing involves the use of 3D printers to build objects using raw materials. 3D printers contain a nozzle where the raw material or filament is extruded onto a print bed layer by layer to construct the object from bottom to top.
Although there are different types of 3D printers, most of them require a similar method of operation that centers on three basic stages, which we will discuss in this section.
Stage 1: Preparation
The first stage of 3D printing is preparation, which is also known as the pre-processing stage. It involves designing the object in a computer program and positioning and preparing the 3D printer itself.
Before you start 3D printing, you need to design an object in a computer program. Computer-aided design (CAD) allows manufacturing companies to build digital object models, which are then saved and transferred to a 3D printer for processing.
Manufacturing companies design the object in a CAD program, after which they transfer the CAD file to a 3D printer. This stage covers CAD design and other tasks associated with preparation —deciding what to 3D print, what material to use, what 3D printer to use, and more.
Stage 2: Building
The second stage of 3D printing is building. The 3D printer will build the object by extruding material out of a nozzle. As the material is extruded out of the nozzle, it is deposited onto a print bed.
The build stage involves the complete production of the object. The 3D printer will move and extrude raw material based on the specifications of the CAD file with which it’s used. This stage covers the production of an object as the 3D printer extrudes material out of a nozzle onto a print bed.
Stage 3: Finishing
The third and final stage of 3D printing depends on the specific type of 3D printer used and the object you are printing. The finishing stage may require the removal of support structures.
Objects are often constructed with supports so that they don’t collapse. Once the printing process is done, then you will need to remove the support.
Finishing may also involve refining the printed object’s surface. If the printed object has a rough or grainy surface, you may need to sand it to achieve a smoother surface. This stage encompasses all post-production touchups.
In the next section, we will go into more detail as to how 3D printers work.
How Do 3D Printers Work?
How 3D printing works step by step? If you are completely new to 3D printers and wonder how these excellent machines work in helping you get the job done, you will find the answer here.
In this section, I’ll explain to you in detail how 3D printing delivers the 3D printed object you desire.
3D printers are becoming more and more popular today because they work fast and cut costs significantly. They are also very handy because they come in various sizes.
There are desktop 3D printers that are portable and compact to fit even the smallest working place.
3D printers are easy to use because they utilize computer-aided design (CAD) to create 3D objects from various materials like molten plastic or powders.
A typical 3D printer is very much like an inkjet printer operated from a computer. It uses additive manufacturing technology and builds up a 3D model one layer at a time.
Steps In 3D Printing
Here are the four steps in 3D printing.
To start a 3D printing task, you have to create a blueprint or three-dimensional digital file of the object you want to 3D print.
Yes, start with a 3D model. You can create one from the ground up or download it from a 3D library.
You can also use 3D software to create a 3D model. You can opt for an industrial-grade or open-source tool. For beginners, we suggest that you use Autodesk Tinkercad. It is free and works in your browser. Thanks to this, you do not need to install the app on your computer.
Also, for more fun and convenient 3D printing experience, Tinkercad offers beginner lessons and has a built-in to export your model as a printable file e.g. STL or OBJ.
Here is a list of the best free 3D printing software for designing, modeling and slicing files.
Once the 3D model is ready, the next step is to slice it. Slicing basically means slicing the 3D models into hundreds or thousands of layers and is done with slicing software.
When the file is sliced, it’s ready for 3D printing. You can feed the file to the 3D printer using a USB, SD, or Wi-Fi, and the 3D printer will 3D print it layer by layer.
Assuming there are no errors in the STL or AMF file, the 3D printer will use the 3D printer’s instructions in the perspective file to dictate where and how the material is deposited — this is how the 3D printed object is created.
It will print the 3D model layer by layer from top to bottom because it uses the additive manufacturing process. Each of the layers can be seen as a thinly sliced cross-section of the object.
It’s the opposite of subtractive manufacturing, which is cutting out or hollowing out a piece of metal or plastic with a milling machine. 3D printing enables you to produce complex shapes using less material than traditional manufacturing methods.
Removal of support structures
This is something that you should never overlook because the process can be challenging.
Can you imagine waiting for hours to 3D print your 3D model only to snap off part of the 3D printed model because you were not careful enough when you removed it from the 3D printing bed?
Before And After 3D Printing Tips
There are some things that you need to do before and after printing to ensure a perfect removal from the bed.
Here are some tips for easy removal to ensure that your 3D printed object is safe.
For example, when printing on a glass bed without any tape or adhesives, you should clean the surface of the bed thoroughly with isopropyl alcohol to remove any residual adhesives from the previous projects.
Meanwhile, some set the nozzle height at a too low Z-setting for the first layer to make the base stick to the bed too well. It’s a rule of thumb to set the home position of the nozzle at a Z-setting that is about 70% to 80% of the height of the first layer.
Once 3D printing is done, you have to remove it slowly and deliberately to get it off the print bed. The goal is to remove the print without getting damaged and without the bed itself getting damaged.
How To Remove 3D Printed Objects Safely
More tips to remove a 3D printed object safely from the bed without damage.
Cool it down
Let the object cool down to room temperature from several minutes to an hour to make the print solidify and more durable.
However, it also results in a slight contraction in the filament material, which would have little to no effect on the visual appearance but help it lift off from the print bed.
In most cases, letting it cool is enough to pop the item right off the bed, especially when the filament used is PLA or others that don’t require any adhesives.
Use a bit of force
If the print has already cooled down but doesn’t pop right off, you have to apply some force depending on how big or sturdy the material is.
You can push, pull or twist it to some degree to fully remove the print from the bed.
Tap with a screwdriver
Even 3D printing professionals use this method because it works. Simply take a flat head screwdriver and place it near a corner of the base of the print and give it one sharp tap on the handle. The 3D printed object should come right off.
Scrape it off
If you have tried the first recommended suggestions and they do not work, it’s time to remove the print bed from the build platform. The next steps could damage the clamps that hold the print bed in place.
Use a thin, flat object and insert it on any clearance that you can find between the base of the print and the bed.
Most 3D printing professionals keep a flat-edged steel scraper or a razor blade with a handle. Slide and lift to lift the bed off the print gradually. Make sure not to apply too much force not to damage the print.
It could potentially damage the print bed and make it uneven. So, it’s best to use the other methods first before you resort to this.
Cool it down even more
Cooling is very helpful in removing a print from the bed. You can cool your print lower than the room temperature to make it contract more and self-lift off the print bed.
You can place the whole print and the bed inside the refrigerator for an hour or so. If the print is too big for your refrigerator, you can use ice packs and place them on the underside of the print bed.
Rise with warm water
If you use an adhesive like glue stick, ABS slurry, or hairspray on your print bed, this method could work.
Lukewarm water or anything below 50 °C should rinse off the adhesive without damaging the filament material.
If warm water doesn’t work, then rinse off the adhesive and use some isopropyl alcohol. This works especially if you used blue painters’ tape to get your print to stick onto the print bed.
However, the downside is that you have to remove the tape afterward and apply a new layer before the next print project.
And most, if not all, do not want the process of applying tape to a print bed. So, this should be your last resort.
For this, pour a liberal amount of alcohol on the edges of the print because you need to soak it up with alcohol and dissolve the adhesive. The print should just come right off with a little bit of prodding.
Use Dental Floss
If it only needs a small force to dislodge the 3D printed object from the bed, the best material to use could be a piece of dental floss.
Simply hold the dental floss between your hands and place it at the back of the print close to the bottom. Then, slowly pull it towards you. Several users shared success stories using this method.
Heat the print bed
Cooling works, so as heating. If the former does not work, you might try the latter. Reheat the print bed to about 70°C because, at times, heat can also make the print pop off.
The temperature changes to manipulate the print is a great method because print materials react to heat. Higher heat can soften the material enough to reduce adhesion to the print bed.
Freeze the print bed
If cooling doesn’t work, try freezing it. By spraying compressed air onto your stuck prints, you can make the object pop off due to the temperature change.
To do this, you can place the print and bed in the freezer. The cold temperature will cause the plastic to contract a bit resulting in the print bed loosening its grip on the print.
What Is A 3D Printer Used For?
By now, you are probably asking yourself, what is 3D printing used for? 3D printing has a lot of applications in various fields — business, medicine, construction, and more.
It can almost do anything you have in mind, from simple things like organizers to more complex items like guns and huge items like houses and buildings.
What is 3D printing examples? To give you a concrete overview of how useful 3D printing is — I’ll categorize them in different fields.
3D Printing is used in the field of medicine, and can be used for 3D printing prosthetics, hearing aids, and organs like the liver and heart.
Some also use 3D printers to offer new solutions to patients with skin problems, wounds, or burns.
James Yoo, a researcher at the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine, invented a portable printer to graft skin straight onto the wounds of burn victims.
The machine scans the wound and fabricates the appropriate number of skin layers needed to fill the wounds. The technology is very helpful, especially for treating the soldier’s injuries on the battlefields.
3D printing can also be used to replace human tissues or cells to treat different diseases, including macular degeneration, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart diseases, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Stem cells can now be bio-printed.
3D printing is also popular for manufacturing items that are expensive and difficult to obtain, especially in medicine.
3D printers had proven very useful during the COVID-19 outbreak when the global supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical devices was scarce. Many healthcare facilities turned to 3D printing to solve the shortage.
3D printers saved lives in many ways to ease the challenges during the pandemic. For instance, it 3D printing helped compensate for the lack of valves for ventilators.
Isisnnova chief executive Christian Fracassi and his colleague mechanical engineer Alessandro Romaioli used a 3D printer and came up with a prototype to produce working valves, and it worked, so they started 3D printing new valves.
And they saved lives by doing so because valves were so in-demand at the time.
One of the most popular applications of 3D printing is rapid prototyping. Yes, many use this technology because it delivers.
3D printing only involves three steps for rapid prototyping — prototype, refine and iterate, and review.
Many use 3D printing for rapid prototyping because it creates models faster than the traditional process. Aside from a faster turn-around time, it has a lower cost and involves easier procedures.
Unlike traditional prototyping like injection molding, which requires weeks or months for each iteration, 3D prototyping only takes hours, significantly improving the speed and cutting the cost.
3D prototyping is perfect jewelry design, architecture, engineering mechanical parts, architectural models, props, functional consumer products, and more.
Here are some of the benefits of why 3D printing is best for rapid prototyping.
Fast turnaround time. The traditional prototyping strategies take long, at least a week, and more. But as mentioned, using 3D printers cuts the processing time. So, if you need the prototype fast, it’s the best choice.
Reduced cost. Aside from improving the speed significantly, it also allows you to cut the overall cost so that you can save more. The average product prototype costs at least $100.
However, with 3D printing technology, you can get the same results at a fraction of the cost. If you have the standard FDM 3D printer, you can create prototypes that are $1 cheaper or more.
Smoother workflows. The process is smooth and convenient. You will start by designing the model using computer-aided design (CAD) and upload it directly into a 3D printer software.
From there, you can feed the file into the 3D printer, and it will start printing. Once the process is done, you will get the prototype the way you design it.
Flexible 3D printing materials. Another great thing about 3D printing is its flexibility. 3D printers can accommodate different types of 3D printing materials, so you will surely find one perfect for your prototypes.
Among the most popular filaments are ABS, PLA, PVA, PETG, PETT, HIPS, and more. There are wood, sandstone, metal, magnetic, carbon fiber, and more.
Allows change and rapid iteration. Rapid prototyping is called as such because it needs to be done fast. 3D printing allows you to make iterations of your 3D model fast and easily.
You do not have to start from scratch or go through an extensive process again to make a minimal change in your prototype.
You just have to change the 3D model or update the CAD file and once it is sliced and ready for 3D printing, then feed the file to the 3D printer again, and you will get the updated prototype with the changes you just made.
3D printing enables you to test, change and refine a design in a matter of minutes or hours.
Have you heard of 3D-printed houses or buildings?
Yes, there are already houses and mansions that have been constructed using 3D printers.
3D printing is revolutionizing the construction industry, and you will be surprised at how fast and sustainable 3D printed structures are.
Among the most popular uses of additive manufacturing in construction is 3D printing concrete, which can speed up a 2-week job in just 3 to 4 days.
It also keeps the workplace safer because it doesn’t require many people, so the risk of injury is less. Plus, it will reduce the labor cost because you won’t be paying too many people — the 3D printer will make the majority of the job.
Also, 3D printing is economical because it uses fewer materials and produces less waste than the traditional construction processes. Furthermore, it reduces the environmental impact.
3D printing has a very promising future in the field of construction. Founder and CEO of Russian company Apis Cor Nikita Chen-in-tai is optimistic that it is the solution to the housing crisis. He also believed that more and more construction companies would adopt the technology in the future.
Here are some of the most famous 3D-printed buildings in the world.
Office Of the Future Building in Dubai by Apis Cor. It measures 20 feet high, 120 feet long, and 40 feet wide. The entire structure was printed using a giant cement printer and assembled on site. Yes, the building was huge, but it only took 17 days to 3D print it and two more days for the installation.
Since it used 3D printing technology, only three workers were involved when it was built. The 3D printer moved around the side by crane. Additional contractors were brought to install windows and the roof.
Dubai took pride in the largest 3D printed building because it is sustainable. It uses local materials and efficient insulation that reduces energy consumption.
WinSun’s 3D-Printed Apartment Block. Chinese Company WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co. is among the leading construction company to test the limits of 3D printing in construction.
In 2015, the company built 3D-printed houses in under 24 hours, and it made history when it constructed the world’s tallest 3D printed structure — the apartment block.
The company used a 20-feet tall, 33-feet wide, and 132-feet long 3D printer to do the job. It also uses a mixture of glass fiber, steel, cement, hardening agents, and recycled construction waste for the material. Plus, the block was designed to be flexible, self-insulating, and earthquake-resistant.
The company saves between 30 to 60 percent of construction waste. The production time was decreased by 50 to 70 percent.
Most of all, labor was significantly reduced by 80 percent. Plus, the buildings comply with the national standards, so they are safe and reliable to be your next home.
3D Printed Houses In Europe. Europe is one of the continents that embrace 3D printing in construction. In Belgium, Kamp C built a prototype 3D-printed house with two floors using its largest 3D printer — COBOD BOD2. They only hire a human workforce to put the finishing touches.
The building was a typical Belgian house with an entrance hall, two conference rooms, and a tiny kitchen area. It was completed on-site in just three weeks.
According to Marijke Aerts, the project manager, the materials were very strong and three times greater than the conventional quick build brick. Overall, it saved an estimated 60 percent on material, time, and budget.
Another 3D printed house was built in the Netherlands by firm Saint-Gobain Weber Beamix in the Eindhoven suburb. It was the first habitable and commercially rented 3D-printed property in the city.
It only took 120 hours or fives to 3D print the house. Bas Huysmans, chief executive of Weber Benelux, a construction offshoot of its French parent company Saint-Gobain, credited the speed to the printer not needing to eat, sleep or rest.
Elize Luz and Harrie Dekkers retired shopkeepers from Amsterdam, purchased the home. They were given a digital key to open their two-bedroom bungalow at the press of a button, and they loved it.
“It is beautiful,” Lutz said about their new home.
“It has the feel of a bunker – it feels safe,” Deckers added.
You may check out this article of 3D printed buildings.
3D printing is also popular in the food industry. Several restaurants and chefs use this technology to boost their business.
Pastry chefs are among the first to take advantage of 3D printing. Dinara Kasko is an internet-famous pastry chef who uses 3D printed molds to design the shapes of her cake.
She became an Internet sensation for baking cakes with unique structures.
Kasko is an architect and switched to baking. She integrates her love for architecture and baking into her artistic and delicious cake.
The architect-turned-chef won’t disappoint you when it comes to using 3D printing in her food business.
Some businesses use 3D printing to sell products. BeeHex, the creators of Chef 3D — the bot designed to bake a pizza in six minutes — has an app where customers can order their favorite pizza. They can customize the size, toppings, dough shape, and more.
Also, another amazing characteristic about 3D printed food is its long shelf life. The 3D printed edibles can last up to 30 years when placed in special plastic bags. They are perfect for feeding astronauts on long space missions.
Here are some of the benefits why the technology is very helpful in the food industry.
• Easy to transport
• Food customization
• Food personalization
• Reduces food waste
• Fast and convenient preparation
• Allows use of new components or ingredients
• Delivers aesthetic and functional customization
• An economical and efficient way for mass personalization
• Longer shelf life (best for astronauts who will be staying in space for long periods)
3D printing is also very popular in the manufacturing industry because it helps companies produce items that are perfect for the size and taste of their various customers.
3D printing technology is very helpful in personalizing products because it considers the customers’ size, preferences, comfort, the purpose of the product, and more.
For example, Adidas’ 3D printed shoes for athletes work as designed. It even helps them perform better.
“I believe that shoes with 3D printed midsoles are the future of running. They’re shoes made for athletes. The possibilities are really exciting, and it’s amazing to be a part of that journey with Adidas,” said Miri Dattke, a German long-distance runner.
Also, 3D printing is a perfect solution to enjoying a new level of design freedom. Although additive manufacturing is not always the ideal technology, it’s very helpful in the manufacturing industry.
“A lot of parts are being manufactured with 3D printing that could be done more effectively using traditional manufacturing methods,” said Peter Rogers, APAC Additive Manufacturing Product Specialist at Autodesk.
“Alternatively, though, with the right design, traditionally manufactured parts could be done a lot more effectively, increasing part performance and reducing waste by using additive manufacturing. It is not about pushing all designs to additive at all, rather making sure that the right design is going into the right manufacturing technology to achieve the most desirable outcome.”
3D printing delivers three-dimensional objects. It is a great solution to save on assembly costs and cut turnaround time.
With this technology, it is cheaper for companies to experiment with new ideas and numerous design iterations with no ample time or tooling expense. This technology could even challenge mass production in the future.
3D printing has already been applied in various industries, including automotive, medical, business, industrial equipment, education, architecture, and consumer-product industries.
If you have a business, you should learn how to use 3D printing in your craft because it always has a purpose and is efficient and practical!
Do you want to learn more about the 3D printing materials, their uses, and how to choose the best material for your project, check our home page.