This article is inspired by the meetup about the 3D printing method, which has been held in our company recently. At the meeting, my colleague told a lot of interesting facts about 3D printing and even delivered his 3D printer to the office where he demonstrated the process of creating various objects with the help of this printer.
Thanks to this demonstration I learned a lot of new information that I had no idea about before. After attending the event I decided to get into the details about the whole issue. So this article is an outcome of my visit and my further research.
Perhaps only the laziest people haven’t discussed or read anything about 3D printing. This technology is not the latest one and is still gaining popularity: it’s been predicted that by 2021 3D printing will have become a multi-billion dollar industry (about $ 21 billion). And this is happening because everything that is necessary for 3D printing is becoming more and more accessible now, i.e. printers, materials, open-source software for 3D modeling.
Many European schools buy printers and teach children 3D modeling nowadays. Everything is developing: there are more and more models with advanced and sometimes unimaginable features every day.
Just imagine that you will be able to create a lot of things: from a simple plastic toy up to all kinds of fixtures, tools, etc. without leaving your house. You will be only needed to study the program, a couple of 3D printing manuals and, of course, a bit of money.
It seems that we will be able to print everything with the help of such printers pretty soon. There are some interesting cases that can very clearly demonstrate the evolution of 3D printing if they are done in the right order.
The very first one that comes to mind is custom handles for razors. The guys from the Boston startup Formlabs once decided to print such handles using different designs, colors, and materials. Their idea evoked a wide response. Now they are partners of Gillette. Anyone can go to their website and design their own handle and then just wait until the package arrives.
And there’s another interesting case with Adidas. They have recently released Alphaedge4d sneakers with polymer soles created with a 3D printer. Manufacturers promise that such shoe soles will provide greater stability, support for the feet and will also have improved cushioning.
There are two more similar and quite touching stories that shocked the media а while ago. An inventor from Washington posted a video showing a hand prosthesis model that anyone can download and 3D print. The father of a little boy who was born without fingers got inspired by the idea of creating a prosthesis for his son and he successfully implemented it. A proper printer cost about $ 2,000 (a prosthesis made by orthopedic companies would cost thousands of dollars), and the cost of plastic needed to print one prosthesis was only about $ 10.
The second story is about Richard from South Africa who lost his fingers due to an accident at work. It was too expensive for him to buy the prosthesis, so he decided to buy a 3D printer and asked a designer to help, and as a result, they made a prosthesis. This prosthesis had more complex mechanisms and features than the prosthesis from the first story, but it still did not cost much. Thanks to the media many people got to know about this story. Now Richard helps many people by printing similar prostheses almost for free.
There are much more stories about 3D printing in prosthetics and, of course, most of them relate to dentistry and orthopedics. But there are too many of them to fit into one article. I have mentioned only those that inspired me the most.
3D printing is also widely used in the industrial sector. There are giant printers that can print huge metal parts — even for airplanes and missiles, and there will be no need for adjustments: a 3D printer will create a ready-made version.
There is a Big Delta 3D printer. It’s 12 meters high and 6 meters in diameter, which can “print out” cheap houses… And also, there is a StarGate printer that can print even a space rocket. It is called a 3D printer, although, in fact, it’s a mini-factory based on robotic systems.
3D printers are already printing tissues and organs such as skin, muscles, cartilages, liver, bladder which have already even been transplanted and they get accepted by the body, just like other donor organs. Isn’t that amazing?
The process of printing is quite simple. The first stage is, of course, the idea and choosing the implementation method. Do you want to make something simple or something complex? If something simple is enough, then everything that is needed is to upload the developed model into a special program. But if you need something more complex, you may need to develop some details first, print and assemble them. Post-print processing may be necessary. It depends on the printer and what you want to print.
Nowadays there is a wide range of printers on the market. They all differ in the method of applying the layers and the materials used. Some methods rely on smelting or softening materials to create layers: this includes selective laser sintering (SLS), selective laser melting (SLM), direct laser sintering of metals (DMLS), and fusion deposition melting (FDM or FFF). Another direction is the production of solid models through the polymerization of liquid materials, known as stereolithography (SLA).
If you want to do printing at home, only FDM and SLA methods are suitable. The second method is better in quality, although, it is more problematic because you need an ultrasonic resin cleaner, plus the resin can be toxic.
When you have already decided on the complexity, and know the type of your 3D printer, you need to follow a simple plan: create a model, set the slicing, start printing and wait.
To create a model, a special editor is used. It allows you to design projects in 3D. The simplest is tinkercad, it allows creating a 3D model right in the browser, but there is extremely limited functionality. For more complex work, you need Fusion 360 or something familiar.
We can talk on this topic a lot. Perhaps this is only the beginning and I will write something else later, some more interesting stories, more peculiarities of 3D printing. And I would like to thank my colleague Eugene for such an exciting meetup as well.