3D Printing Basics: What it is, Process, Materials, and Service

What is 3D Printing?


3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a manufacturing process that creates three-dimensional objects by adding material layer by layer based on a digital design or model. This technology allows for the creation of complex and customized objects directly from computer-generated 3D models. It is fundamentally different from traditional subtractive manufacturing processes, which involve cutting or machining material from a larger block to obtain the desired shape. 




How Does It Work?


The functional principle of 3D printing is to construct physical objects by depositing or solidifying material layer by layer, based on a digital 3D model, using techniques like extrusion, curing, or sintering.


Process of 3D Printing


Generally, the process of 3D printing consists of 4 steps: design, slicing, printing, and post-processing.


Designing


In this initial step, a 3D model of the object is created using computer-aided design (CAD) software or obtained from existing 3D models or 3D scans.


Designers take into account various factors, such as the object's dimensions, shape, structural integrity, and aesthetic considerations.


Support structures may be added digitally to the model if the design includes overhangs or intricate features that require stability during printing.


Slicing


Slicing software is used to convert the 3D model into a series of horizontal cross-sectional layers, typically hundreds or thousands of them.


These layers are essentially 2D cross-sections of the 3D model, and the slicing software generates detailed instructions in the form of G-code for the 3D printer to follow.


Print parameters are set during this step, specifying details like layer thickness (resolution), print speed, infill density (internal structure solidity), and support structures for overhanging parts.


Printing


Once the digital model is prepared, the 3D printer is loaded with the chosen printing material, which can include various plastics, resins, metals, and ceramics.


The 3D printer reads the G-code instructions and starts constructing the object layer by layer.

Depending on the specific 3D printing technology used, material deposition can involve extrusion and heating (FDM), curing with UV light (SLA), sintering with a laser (SLS), or other methods.


Post-Processing


After the printing process is complete, the printed object undergoes several post-processing steps:


· Inspection: A thorough check for defects, warping, or imperfections is conducted.

· Support Removal: If support structures were used during printing to maintain stability, these are removed. This can involve manual or automated processes.

· Finishing: Depending on the desired final appearance and functionality, 3D printing post-processing tasks like sanding, trimming, painting, or assembly may be performed.


Different Types of 3D Printing Technologies

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)


Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is an additive manufacturing process in which a 3D printer heats and extrudes a continuous filament of thermoplastic material layer by layer. These layers are precisely deposited on top of one another to build a 3D object. FDM is known for its affordability, ease of use, and suitability for rapid prototyping and functional part production. It's widely used in various industries and by hobbyists.


Advantages

· Affordable and accessible for personal use and small businesses.

· Good for rapid prototyping and functional parts.

· Wide range of available thermoplastic materials.


Disadvantages

· Limited resolution, which may result in visible layer lines.

· Prone to warping and layer adhesion issues.

· Post-processing is often required for smoother finishes.


Stereolithography (SLA)


Stereolithography (SLA) is a 3D printing technique that uses a UV laser to selectively cure a liquid photopolymer resin, layer by layer. The resin solidifies upon exposure to UV light, creating the desired 3D shape. SLA is prized for its high-resolution printing, making it ideal for producing intricate and detailed models, prototypes, and components for industries such as automotive, medical, and consumer goods.


Advantages 

· High-resolution printing with a smooth surface finish.

· Ideal for intricate and detailed models.

· Accurate and consistent results.


Disadvantages

· Resin material can be expensive.

· Requires UV post-curing.

· Limited material choices compared to FDM.


Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)


Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is an additive manufacturing method that employs a high-powered laser to sinter powdered material layer by layer. The heat from the laser fuses the powdered particles to form a solid object. SLS is renowned for its ability to create complex geometries, including internal structures, and is used in industries like aerospace, automotive, and healthcare.


Advantages

· Excellent for complex geometries and internal structures.

· Supports a wide range of materials, including metals.

· Functional and strong parts with good mechanical properties.


Disadvantages

· High machine cost and maintenance.

· Surface finish is rougher compared to SLA.

· Limited precision for very fine details.


Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)


Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) is an additive manufacturing technique that employs a high-powered laser to selectively sinter or melt metal powder, typically alloys like stainless steel, titanium, or aluminum, layer by layer. This process results in fully dense and functional metal parts with excellent mechanical properties. DMLS is widely used in aerospace, medical, and automotive industries for producing intricate metal components and prototypes.


Advantages

· Produces fully dense metal parts with excellent mechanical properties.

· High precision and accuracy.


Disadvantages

· Expensive machines and high operating costs.

· Limited material choices compared to other methods.

· Post-processing may be required for surface finish and dimensional accuracy.


PolyJet Printing


PolyJet Printing is a 3D printing technology that operates by jetting tiny droplets of liquid photopolymer resin onto a build platform. Each droplet is cured with UV light immediately after being deposited, allowing for the precise layering of multiple materials and colors in a single print job. PolyJet is favored for its high resolution and multi-material capabilities, making it suitable for applications ranging from product design to medical modeling.


Advantages

· High-resolution and multi-material capabilities.

· Full-color printing for realistic prototypes.

· Supports various rigid and flexible materials.


Disadvantages

· Relatively expensive to operate and maintain.

· Limited build size compared to some other technologies.

· Printed parts may require post-processing for optimal strength.


Materials of 3D Printing


Selecting materials for 3D printing is a crucial step in the additive manufacturing process, and it requires careful consideration of various factors to ensure the success of your project. Here are important considerations when selecting materials for 3D printing:


· Purpose and Application: Identify the purpose of your 3D-printed object. Is it for prototyping, functional parts, artistic models, or other applications?


· Printing Technology: Different 3D printing technologies (e.g., Fused Deposition Modeling, Stereolithography, Selective Laser Sintering) work with specific materials. Ensure compatibility with your printer.


· Material Properties: Consider the mechanical properties (e.g., strength, flexibility, toughness), thermal properties (e.g., melting point, heat resistance), and other specific properties (e.g., electrical conductivity, chemical resistance) required for your application.


· Dimensional Stability: Choose a material with minimal shrinkage or warping to maintain dimensional accuracy in the final print.


Common Materials for SLS


Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) uses a laser to sinter powdered material into solid layers. This technology boasts a diverse material choice:

· Nylon11

· Nylon12

· TPU

· Nylon composite


Common Materials For FDM


In Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology, objects are constructed layer by layer through the extrusion of heated filament. Let's see some of the key materials commonly used in FDM:

· ABS

· PLA

· PETG

· Nylon

· HIPS

· TPU

· PVA

· Composite(e.g.,carbon fiber, fiberglass, kevlar )


Common Materials for SLA


Stereolithography (SLA) employs liquid photopolymer resins that solidify under UV light to produce precise, high-resolution prints. Here are some common SLA materials:

· Standard resin.

· Clear resin.

· Draft resin. 

· Tough and Durable resin. 

· Rigid resin. 

· Polyurethane resin. 

· Flexible and elastic resin. 

· Medical and dental resin. 

· ESD (electrostatic discharge) resin. 

· Flame retardant resin. 

· Ceramic resin. 


Common Materials for DMLS


Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) utilizes a high-powered laser to selectively fuse metal powder into solid layers. It is a versatile process, particularly suited for creating complex metal parts. Here are some common materials used in DMLS:

· Stainless Steel

· Aluminum

· Titanium

· Cobalt Chrome

· Inconel


Common Materials for Polyjet


PolyJet is a technology that jets and UV-cures tiny droplets of liquid photopolymer material to create objects with precise details and multiple materials or colors in a single print. Here are some common materials used in PolyJet:

· Digital materials

· Digital ABS plastic

· Rubber-Like materials

· High-Temperature Materials

· Transparent materials

· Rigid Opaque Materials

· Simulated Polypropylene materials

· Biocompatible Materials


3D Printing Examples


3D printing is revolutionizing industries. It creates objects by adding material layer by layer. This technology offers flexibility, customization, and efficiency. In the following examples, we'll see how it's changing the way we make things and improving various sectors.


Aerospace Industry

The aerospace industry is at the forefront of 3D printing adoption. It employs this technology to fabricate intricate components, such as engine parts, turbine blades, and structural brackets, that demand both lightweight properties and high performance. 3D printing enables the creation of complex geometries that are often unachievable through traditional manufacturing methods. It's particularly advantageous in reducing the overall weight of aircraft, which improves fuel efficiency and lowers operational costs.


Case Study: SpaceX's Rocket Engines

SpaceX, the pioneering space exploration company, leverages 3D printing extensively to manufacture rocket components. Notably, they use this technology for the SuperDraco engines in the Crew Dragon spacecraft. 3D printing allows SpaceX to rapidly prototype and produce complex engine parts, contributing to the company's ability to innovate and reduce the cost of space travel.


Medical and Healthcare

3D printing has revolutionized the medical field, offering a range of applications from patient-specific implants and prosthetics to anatomical models for surgical planning. It enables healthcare professionals to customize medical devices, improving patient outcomes and comfort. Additionally, 3D printing is utilized to create pharmaceuticals with precise dosages.


Case Study: Patient-Specific Implants

Leading medical companies like Stryker use 3D printing to manufacture patient-specific implants. These implants, whether for joint replacements or cranial implants, are tailored precisely to an individual's unique anatomy. This level of customization ensures better compatibility, reduces recovery time, and enhances the overall quality of care.


Automotive Industry

In the automotive sector, 3D printing is employed for rapid prototyping, producing complex and lightweight parts, and exploring innovative vehicle design concepts. This technology significantly accelerates the product development cycle while allowing for intricate geometries and novel manufacturing techniques.


Case Study: Local Motors' Strati Car

Local Motors made headlines by 3D printing the Strati, one of the world's first 3D-printed cars. This innovative approach demonstrated the potential for on-demand manufacturing of custom vehicles. The Strati showcased the flexibility and efficiency gains offered by 3D printing in the automotive industry.


Consumer Electronics

In the consumer electronics industry, 3D printing is used to create intricate and customized components for various devices, including smartphones, wearables, and audio equipment. This technology allows for improved aesthetics, functionality, and design freedom.


Case Study: Carbon's 3D-Printed Audio Speaker

Carbon, a 3D printing company, collaborated with a consumer electronics brand to produce a lattice-structured audio speaker. The speaker's design was optimized for both aesthetics and sound quality, demonstrating the creative potential of 3D printing in the consumer electronics market.


Fashion and Jewelry

In fashion and jewelry design, 3D printing enables the creation of unique, customizable, and intricately designed pieces that were previously challenging to produce through traditional methods. This technology empowers designers to push the boundaries of creativity.


Case Study: Nervous System's Kinematics Dress

Nervous System, a design studio, gained recognition for its Kinematics Dress, a 3D-printed garment that embraces both fashion and technology. This dress showcased the fusion of design innovation and 3D printing in the fashion industry.


Architecture and Construction

Architects and construction professionals leverage 3D printing for creating detailed architectural models, and complex building components, and even exploring the construction of entire houses using 3D printing technology. This facilitates improved visualization and experimentation with innovative designs.


Case Study: Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)

Architectural firm BIG utilizes 3D printing to construct intricate scale models of their architectural designs. These models aid in presenting ideas to clients and stakeholders effectively, allowing them to visualize the final structure in detail.


Food and Culinary Arts

3D printing is gaining ground in the culinary world, offering the ability to craft intricate, artistic, and customizable food items. Chefs and restaurants use 3D printers to elevate the dining experience with unique and visually stunning dishes.


Case Study: Food Ink's 3D-Printed Dinner Experience

Food Ink, a restaurant and pop-up dining experience employs 3D printing technology to create edible sculptures, intricate desserts, and customized dishes. This immersive culinary experience showcases the creative potential of 3D printing in gastronomy.


Summary


This article provided a summary of 3D printing technology including what it is, how it works, the different types of 3D printing technologies, popular materials used in different 3D printing technologies, and industrial examples of 3D printing.


To learn more about 3D printing services and select the optimal 3D printing technology and material for your projects, feel free to contact the SogaWorks account representative. SogaWorks offers a wide range of 3D printing services for your custom project needs. Get a free, no-hassle quote with our instant quote system.

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