About 3D printing

So you may have heard about 3D printing and would like to know more about it. This page will give you an overview of the technique with some links to more detailed information.

What is 3D printing?

Using a 3D printer you can build three-dimensional object from a computer model. You can design a model, or download it, and create a physical object from it. Unlike what you may think, the technique isn’t new, it has been developed I the eighties. What is new is that using open-source platforms like Arduino, the technique has become increasingly affordable and is available to consumers.
There are actually multiple techniques to ‘print’ a 3D model, which are outlined below, but all of them are considered additive manufacturing, creating something by adding something, as opposed to subtractive manufacturing where materials is removed, i.e. milling.

How does 3D printing work?

The basic workflow for 3D printing is a s follows. You need to have a 3D model first. This can be designed using CAD software like Blender, Solidworks, AutoCAD, OpenSCAD or any software that can export a 3D model in STL. Or you can download a model from the internet, sites like Thingiverse offer a large assortment of models for free. Next step is that the model needs to be prepared for printing, a process called slicing as in making slices (layers)  from the model. Depending on the technique there are different solutions for this, but the output is a printable file, containing instructions for the 3D printer to execute. By sending the file to the printer, the 3D printer will make an object from it.

How difficult is 3D printing?

At this time 3D printers for the consumer market have been steadily improved over time, to a level where a non-technical person can be taught how to operate the machine. In terms of quality and reliability you can expect the printer to be able to do 3D printing for many hours without a problem when doing simple prints. Using more advanced materials will make a failure more likely and there should be considered a learning curve involved using those. Also the type of model may make it more difficult to print. A cube for example is simple enough, but a larger object with many steep sides (‘overhang’) or tiny parts may involve tweaking slicing settings and may take a few attempts to get right.

Which techniques are there?

There are actually a lot, but for consumers there are two technologies available.

Printing using filament
This is for consumers the most common technique, called FDM (fused deposition modeling) or sometimes FFF (Field flow fractionation). It works by heating a wire of platic, called filament, to it’s melting point and then depositing it on a location of a surface. By doing this in layers, you get a 3D object.

Printing using (UV) light
This technique uses a UV light to harden a resin, called Stereolithography (SLA). This can be done using a laser, projector or LCD as light source.

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