Technological advancement is an inherent component of modern day civilisation. Throughout the history of mankind, countless technologies have been invented and adopted by humanity. However, while all inventions have made significant difference in our standards of living, there are a few that have actually sparked revolutions in the way we go about our lives. In the past, there was the fire, the wheel, the steam engine, and the internet. Now, there will be 3D printing and 3D printers.
What kind of an impact can 3D printing and 3D printers have in our lives? In order to understand the future impact of this technology, we can have a look at how certain technologies in the past affected human civilisation. Let’s start with the Industrial Revolution.
Industrial Revolution can be credited with creating the concept of plenty in humanity’s head. The idea of “plenty” or “mass production” didn’t exist before the steam engine was created. When mass production became possible, people got more things to eat, wear, and consume. This, naturally, increased our longevity. Perhaps, the more significant impact of the Industrial Revolution was that it forced people to converge and gave birth to urban centres.
The Digital Revolution of the ‘90s also had massive impact on how humanity went about its business (all puns intended). The Digital Revolution affected communication and marketing. It allowed for user generated content which made it easier for customers to review businesses. This, in turn, caused businesses to focus on the quality of their services and products. Between easy communication avenues and improves business ethics, the Digital Revolution also resulted in a better standard of life.
3D printing or Additive Manufacturing technology is all set to be the basis of the next big economic and social revolution and the world of media is slowly coming to recognise this as well.
What’s With All the Brouhaha About 3D Printers?
Unless you’ve been living under some rock in some buried corner of the country, it’s impossible that you haven’t heard about 3D printing or 3D printers yet. Articles about 3D printing’s future, videos of 3D printers working their magic, and information about new businesses revolving around 3D printers are going viral all over the place. So, what’s with all this brouhaha about 3D printers?
The brouhaha is closely associated with the speed with which 3D printing has grown in recent years and the speed with which it is expected to grow in the next few years. In an earlier post on this blog, we focused on the rate of growth of the global 3D printing market. As per those numbers, the 3D printing market will be worth around $7 billion in the current year but will grow by no less than three times to reach $21 billion in the next four years i.e. by 2020.
What’s even more astounding is that the rate of growth of the 3D printing market will actually increase as the years pass. For instance, by 2018, the 3D printing market will be worth $13 billion. There’s literally no limit to how far 3D printing can go in the future given enough time.
3D printing technology is developing in every direction possible. Consider the following ways in which the technology is evolving and imagine how they’ll end up making the technology even more user – friendly.
- The time taken to finish a project is reducing which means that the speed of 3D printing is increasing.
- It is becoming possible to use more and more materials in 3D printing which means that applications of the process are increasing in number.
- The quality of the end product is becoming more refined and specific.
- The initial cost of 3D printers and the total cost of ownership i.e. the cost of using 3D printing technology is dropping.
3D printing has already captured some markets in their entirety. For example, 98 percent of hearing aids in the world are now manufactured or “printed” with 3D printing technology.
All this growth is a clear sign that 3D printing is a clear testimony to the numerous benefits of 3D printing. In fact, if you only look at these advantages of 3D printing, you’ll be able to visualise how this new technology is going to fuel the next technological revolution on Earth. It is probably going to be as critical to human development as quantum mechanics and will probably become accessible to the common man first.
This is why it is important for all of us to prepare for the arrival of 3D printers into our homes. This 3D printing guide is designed to help you do just that. We’ll begin with what is 3D printing, move onto the history of 3D printing, explore the various types of 3D printing technologies, delve into the multiple applications of 3D printers, and finally dive into the practical aspects as well.
What Is 3D Printing?
The type of printing that we’ve been doing all these years at our homes and offices is two dimensional i.e. the image only has the X and Y axes. 3D printing stands for three dimensional printing which means an added axis of Z. Essentially, in 3D printing, a three dimensional object is created by laying down layer upon layer of the chosen material.
This is one of the reasons why 3D printing is technically called Additive Manufacturing. Basically, the object is created by layers created additively. Practically speaking, a 3D printer will take a 3D design provided by you and proceed to turn it into physical reality by simply adding layers upon layers of a specific material.
It is worth mentioning that in some circles 3D printing devices are considered to be CNC machines. Any machine controlled by a computer is known as a CNC machine because CNC stands for Computer Numerical Controlled. This CNC nature is also at the heart of most common complaints people have against 3D printing. In fact, it may further our knowledge if we looked at some of the more publicised disadvantages of 3D printing.
How Was The First 3D Printer Created?
You’ve started hearing about 3D printers now but 3D printing technology has been around for more than three and a half decades now. 3D printing technology is derived directly from 2D inkjet printing that we’re all accustomed to right now. In 2D inkjet printing, the print head sprays ink in a predetermined pattern on paper to create the right 2D images. In 3D printing, the same process is used with the addition of the third dimension.
Therefore, the history of 3D printing can actually be traced all the way back to the development of the first inkjet printer. However, if we limit our back trace to only 3D, then the history of 3D printing begins in the 1980s with the development of functional Rapid Prototyping (RP) system by Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute’s Hideo Kodama.
Three years after the development of functional RP system by Kodama, stereolithography was invented by Charles Hull. Hull’s company 3D Systems developed the first Stereolithographic Apparatus (SLA) machine or 3D printer in the world in 1992. 3D Systems is still considered to be one of the most established in the industry.
The next big leap in the world of 3D printing occurred in the first decade of the current century. For instance, in 1999, the first human organ was printed using 3D printing technology. This was a human bladder printed with human cells. In the next 10 years, doctors, researchers, and scientists would go on to 3D print other human organs such as kidneys, prosthetic legs, and even blood vessels.
In this same period, specifically 2005, Darwin was developed. Darwin was a 3D printer that could create copies of itself. This led directly to the development of the first Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) machine in 2006. An SLS machine is basically a 3D printer that uses laser to fuse specific particles of a target substance to create a preconceived design.
Subsequently, another company, known as Objet, created a 3D printer that could use multiple materials to 3D print parts. Objet is now a part of another 3D printing bigwig Stratasys.
In the last decade, 3D printing applications have grown tremendously in number, its cost has plummeted to a point where individuals can now own 3D printers, and its sophistication has increased so that even NASA is now planning to use variants in space.
What Are The Different Types Of 3D Printing Technologies?
There are numerous ways through which people and companies have applied principles of additive manufacturing. These ways have resulted in multiple 3D printing technologies that using the same principles achieve the same objectives but approach the problem from different directions.
Of the many 3D printing technologies, three stand out. The following is a small description of each.
- Fused Deposition Modelling: Fused Deposition Modelling or FDM can be said to be a type of direct 3D printing. This type of 3D printer is easily the most common in the world as their relatively simplistic nature makes them viable for individual users and hobbyists. The simplistic nature of these 3D printers also makes them affordable. In fact, many 3D printing enthusiasts actually build FDM 3D printers at home with different parts (Whether you should build a 3D printer at home or not is a different question altogether that we’ve answered with this post). In FDM 3D printers, a printer head melts the material being used and sprays it onto the printer bed in layers. As the next layer is laid down, the previous layer fuses with it by the virtue of cooling down and solidifying.
- Stereolithography: SLA, as you can see from the history of 3D printing section, is the first 3D printing technique ever developed. SLA 3D printing is primarily useful in prototyping because the final object almost always ends up being brittle. The reason for this is hidden in the SLA process. In SLA photocurable resin is used to draw out a design into a 3D object with the help of a laser. Photocurable means that the resin solidifies when specific wavelength light is put on it. Typically, ultraviolet lasers are used to draw our 3D designs into 3D models that can then be studied as prototypes.
- Selective Laser Sintering: SLS 3D printing is very similar to SLA 3D printing. The primary difference between the two is that in SLA the laser is used to cure liquid resin while in SLS the laser is used to cure powdered substances. Because powdered substances can be used in SLS 3D printing, these machines can work with a diverse range of materials including metals, glass, and plastics. Another benefit of SLS 3D printing is that overhanging portions of the 3D models don’t require special support in this process. In contrast, models with overhangs in both FDM and SLA processes require special supports.
What Can You Create With A 3D Printer?
There is no limit to what you can or cannot print with a 3D printer. The main lure of 3D printing for most people is that they can print anything and everything in their imaginations. For instance, as mentioned earlier, 3D printing can be used to print human organs which will make human donors redundant in the future. The 3D printing industry is currently dominated by spare parts production which accounts for about 30 percent of the entire market. However, higher end applications of 3D printing are also possible with NASA leading the way in their development.
For individuals, 3D printing can be useful in myriad ways at home. For example, if you have a 3D printer at home, you can use it to print:
- Device holders,
- Handles for various items,
- Bottle openers,
- Soap dishes,
- Shower heads,
- Sine racks,
- Musical Instruments,
- Light fixtures,
- Clocks, and
There is literally no limit to 3D printing, provided you have a sophisticated enough printer and quality 3D printing filaments. There are numerous 3D printers that you can go for currently. However, your choice will depend on your own definition of the best 3D printer. We’ve created another post that contains a list from which you can choose the Best 3D printer as well as the cheapest 3D printer.
What Is The 3D Printing Process Like?
The entire 3D printing process can be divided into five steps, even if one takes into account different 3D printing technologies. In other words, the steps to 3D print some item will, more or less, remain the same, irrespective of what type of 3D printer you’re working with. These five steps are:
- 3D Designing: 3D designing is a critical component of the entire process of 3D printing because it yields the 3D model that the 3D printer uses. Even the best 3D printers will fail to create the right object if the 3D model is flawed. 3D designing requires access to and the knowhow of using a Computer Aided Design (CAD) software programme. There are various types of CAD software programmes available in the market in both categories, free and paid. Alternatively, beginning 3D printing enthusiasts always have the option of looking for 3D models online. There are countless websites offering a wide array of 3D models for these enthusiasts to use. Moreover, 3D designing experts can also be hired by an enthusiast if a specific type of design is required.
- Format Conversion: Depending on the type of CAD software programme you’re using, you’ll get your 3D model in a specific file format. Regardless of what format you get, you won’t be able to use it as it is in any 3D printer. The vast majority of 3D printers in the market need 3D models in the Standard Tessellation Language (STL) format. This was a file format that was developed in 1987 for 3D Systems to use but has since become the fundamental of modern day 3D printing. Once 3D model file format is converted to STL, size and orientation for the print is specified by the user for the 3D printer to use.
- 3D Printer Configuration: Before the final print command is given, the 3D printer has to be configured to the right settings. This can be a simple or complex process depending upon the type of 3D printer being used. Different 3D printers require different things to be done before a new print job can be initiated. This could range from precision measurements being provided to renewing various consumables for the 3D printer to use.
- 3D Printing: Now, the user can finally give the print command to its 3D printer. Typically, the 3D printing process of most machines is completely automated. However, sometimes it is possible that adjustments will need to be made. A 3D print job can take anything from a few minutes to days, depending upon the complexity of the print task. Regular checks are highly recommended so that the user can identify any flaws and make adjustments as required. This is especially crucial if overhangs are an integral part of the 3D model.
- 3D Print Post Processing: Once the print job is complete, the object can be removed. At the same time, it is possible that the object may require specific type of post processing before it can be put to use. Post processing can vary on the basis of the 3D printing technology being used. In some cases, the objects may require brushing to remove any excess powder while in others water baths may be recommended to remove supports. Post processing is a sensitive stage of the 3D printing process because most 3D printed objects are very brittle right after they’re printed.
What Is The 3D Printer Price Like?
If you’re interested in 3D printing and think that it is something that can be useful at home, then you’re most probably wondering the financial requirements. Specifically, you’re wondering what the 3D printer price is like.
However, before we tell you about the 3D printer price and explain how that spectrum works. You need to realise that you’ll need to put in some effort to truly reap the benefits of 3D printing. At the very least, you’ll need to put in a couple of months learning 3D printing practically. Your earlier projects, thus, may suffer in quality. However, if you can commit to learning 3D printing, whether as a hobby or as something useful, the sky is the limit to how far you can take it especially if you try to follow these 3D printing tips that we’ve laid out conveniently for you.
Right then, back to the 3D printer price. As of now, you can probably get a 3D printer for as low as $150 in the form of the Lix 3D Pen. You must remember, though, that this will be a pen that will work on the same principle as a 3D printer. It isn’t exactly a 3D printer. In simple terms, this pen uses the 3D printing technology to make it possible for you to draw things in air!
If you’re looking for a proper 3D printer, then you’ll probably have to fork out something in the range of $250. Now, this figure can be cut down drastically if you build your own 3D printer. If you’re the DIY type of person, then this is a project that will never stop giving. After all, once you’ve built your 3D printer, you’ll never stop building or 3D printing things.
If you’re building your own 3D printer, then you can probably cut down the financial outlay by finding cheaper components. It requires some patience and some diligent searching but it is entirely possible.
If all this has overwhelmed you, then our advice to you is to simply take it slow and gradual. Learning 3D printing is one of those long term investments that start slow and small but gradually compound into something truly worthwhile like your retirement fund. Just keep at it and before you know it, you’ll stop going to the market for household items!