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.
Makerbot Industries – Replicator 2 – 3D-printer 03 by Creative Tools licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
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 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.
This 3D printing guide is designed to help you prepare for the arrival of 3D printers into our homes. We’ll begin with what 3D printing is and how it works, explore the various types of 3D printing technologies, and then we’ll move onto the history of 3D printing and delve into the multiple applications of 3D printers.
Then, you’ll learn about the different styles of 3D printer and how to choose which one to buy. You will also get an overview of the tools necessary for a 3D printing job. The guide will then take you through the 3D printing process, from designing a 3D model to post processing the finished product. You will also get useful information on 3D printing safety and maintenance.
Finally, the guide will reflect on the business aspect of 3D printing and end with a glance into the future of 3D printing.
1. The Basics of 3D Printing
Manufacturing changed forever when 3D printing first became a reality over 30 years ago. 3D printing now exists as a staple for manufacturers and represents the backbone of many businesses. The first chapter of the 3d Printing Guide introduces you to the concept of 3D printing and how it works. Also, you will learn about the materials and technologies that make this type of production possible, feasible and profitable in the modern economy.
What is 3D Printing?
Ordinary ink jet printers work by placing a layer of ink on paper to create magnificent documents. Now, just imagine if that ink were plastic, metal, or resin. Even better, imagine if a printer could stack multiple layers of a solid material in a way that forms a 3D object that you can hold in your hands. This is, in a nutshell, exactly what 3D printing does.
As an additive process, 3D printing starts with basically nothing and then creates multiple layers of solid material which combine to form a three-dimensional object. 3D printing differs from conventional subtractive approaches while affording many new opportunities for production.
Ultimaker 3D Printer by Maurizio Pesce licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Traditional manufacturing processes often start with solid pieces of material and then mill or drill them to conform to a particular product specification. Such subtractive processes often require expensive equipment and require large production batches to become economical. Additionally, the subtractive process can result in a substantial amount of waste and the associated cost of recycling. 3D printing takes a completely different approach.
This type of production, also known as additive manufacturing, helps to eliminate waste and the need for recycling by introducing new levels of material efficiency to the manufacturing process. It also enables manufacturers to create products in small quantities without increasing production costs. 3D printers can quickly produce functional prototypes and thereby speed product development cycles.
Comparatively, this type of production can also make businesses more efficient in terms of power consumption and equipment. The affordability of 3D printers and the development of a variety of printable materials means that companies can produce complex goods with a minimal investment in equipment.
How It Works
3D printing begins with the creation of a digital model that tells the printer what to do. Users can manually design these outputs either by using computer aided design (CAD) software or by using a 3D scanner to digitally recreate an existing object. Either way, the design process depends entirely on computers and software.
When finished, the design process delivers a file formatted in standard tessellation language (STL). The file contains details about the surfaces and angles required to make a particular design. In the next step, the STL file is “sliced.” This means that the 3D model is divided into numerous minuscule layers and loaded into the printer via USB, memory card or wireless network connection. As the printer works, it puts down one two-dimensional slice on top of another until it creates a three-dimensional object.
Sometimes 3D-printed objects require an additional finishing process before they can be used. For example, you can expect that some outputs will require sanding and painting. However, you can find some materials that can go directly from the printer into inventory. In fact, new materials and technology enable the blending of multiple materials and colours in ways that further eliminate the need for post-processing.
3D Printing Technologies
In additive manufacturing, numerous technologies can be used to create a 3D object. The basic process is the same for all technologies; however, they do differ in the way materials are processed. Here is an overview of some of the technologies:
- Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) – As an entry level consumer-grade technology, FDM especially appeals to individuals who want to create 3D products at home. For the most part, FDM printers first melt the material used in production and then extrude it through a nozzle which then prints one layer at a time. Upon the completion of each layer, the printer bed drops to maintain a consistent distance from the nozzle. Advanced FDM printers exist that have multiple nozzles for different colours. Also, some high-end models allow the type of overhanging layers that you need to produce complex 3D objects.
- Stereolithography (SLA) – Using UV light from a laser, stereolithography incrementally cures photopolymer to create 3D objects. After finishing the bottom layer, the SLA printer raises it up to allow the resin to flow beneath it the next layer forms and the process repeats. Although some SLA printers work in an opposite way, pulling the product down rather than up, the basic concept remains the same, being cured on the top.
- Digital Light Processing (DLP) – Similar to SLA, but using ordinary light, DLP is a process that uses a projector to cure liquid photo-sensitive resin as the object is pulled from it. The printer lifts the object to allow room for the resin to flow underneath in preparation for each subsequent layer. Before production begins, a mould is made from a wax model to give the output its desired shape. By and large, this technique works for materials such as silver and brass.
- Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) – This is a 3D printing method that works with plastic and Alumide to create complicated parts that often interlock. This process involves powder bed fusion technology that melts together layers of powdered material. Advantages of this type of technology include a minimal level of required support and high speed. SLS products also resist heat and chemicals.
- Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) – Using an additive process called Photopolymerization, this technology digitally projects sequences of ultra violet light that cures liquid resin as the printer raises the printed object from it. As a result, CLIP supports concurrent production and precise outputs that involve complicated shapes.
- Material Jetting (PolyJet and MultiJet Modeling) – In a process that might remind you of an inkjet printer, material jet printers spray photopolymers to create a layer and then crosslinks it using a UV lamp. Material jetting often takes longer than other technologies but offers a satisfactory level of precision. This technology can give you the choice of multiple materials and colours.
- Electron Beam Melting (EBM) – To make dense metal objects, EBM technology beams electrons onto metal powder to completely melt it within a vacuum. This technology fully retains the properties of the printed metal.
- Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) – In similar ways to that of selective laser sintering, DMLS printers use a laser to trace cross sections of an object as it creates layers of metal or brass. Such powder-bed-infusion devices can produce dense objects with high levels of intricacy. Keep in mind, however, that DMLS outputs usually require finishing.
- Selective Laser Melting (SLM) – Developed to print metal alloys in 3D, SLM uses a laser to melt metal powder to create layers and shapes. Unlike technologies such as DMLS, this printing method uses high temperatures to completely melt the powder. As a result, SLM works well with titanium and aluminium as well as other pure metals.
- Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM) – If you need to quickly get prototypes in your hands, you should consider LOM technology. This type of printing uses layers of paper that are coated with glue. As each layer is cut to shape by a laser, a roller presses it down on preceding layers. Alternate materials for LOM printing include laminated plastics and metals.
- Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) – Thermoplastic filaments fed from a coil into an extruder print head form the basis of FFF technology. As the filament passes through the heat of the print head, it becomes a layer. The repetitive process results in a 3D plastic object.
3D Printing Materials
Before thinking that additive manufacturing reduces your choices of materials to work with, think again. Materials that range from simple plastics to pure metals are available for 3D printing, giving you a surprising amount of flexibility. Discussing every available printing material, however, seems impractical for this space. However, below you will learn about some of the most popular and promising materials that will help you understand the basics of 3D printing.
3D printed toy horse figure by Creative Tools licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Polyamide, also known as nylon, can work in conjunction with numerous printing technologies including sintering and, in filament form, fused deposit modeling (FDM). Although plastic outputs often are white, you can color them during the preparation or post-processing stages of production. When combined with a powdered form of aluminum, such plastic takes the form of Alumide and offer additional options.
Another kind of plastic, ABS, is often used by entry level additive devices. Its strength, choice of colors and common availability makes it popular with consumers. Meanwhile, PLA, another printable plastic, is biodegradable and has, therefore, become preferred by many.
While you might choose PLA for its environmental benefits along with its many color variants, you also need to know that it lacks the flexibility and longevity of ABS. Finally, LayWood, also known as WPC, is an extrusion composite made from wood and polymers for entry-level printers.
As you can imagine, the advent of printable metals has fueled the growth of additive manufacturing. So far, cobalt and aluminum-based materials have become popular, but stainless steel has shown promise. When in its powder form, the stainless steel works well for sintering and EBM environments. Despite its silver color, it accepts plating, allowing producers to use it for gold and bronze-colored outputs.
If you want to use real gold and silver you have options available in powdered form. Along with titanium, you have access to the strongest and most durable materials for all your designs.
3D-printed ceramics make the production easy, customizable and consistent. If you choose to print with this type of material, remember that it will still need to be fired and glazed as you would with ordinary ceramic goods.
3D printers designed to use copier paper rather than plastics or metals can help reduce the environmental impact of modeling while controlling cost. Additionally, paper outputs are easy to recycle and, for the most part, require no additional processing.
Researchers have developed 3D biological materials that they hope to use for replacement joints, bones and organs. Tissues printed from 3D printers could eventually lead to replacements from practically every part of the body. Unsurprisingly, such developments are leading to 3D-printed food.
So far, chocolate seems to rank as one of the most successful and popular printed foods. However, printers that work with sugar and pasta are on the way along with devices that will print meat. In fact, 3D food printers might eventually help everyone enjoy a balanced diet.
As you can see, many materials are available for additive manufacturing. These materials come in various states to work with the many different 3D printing technologies. So far, you can find material in the form of powders, resins, pellets and filaments.
To summarize the first chapter of this guide, addictive manufacturing contrasts with conventional methods. Rather than starting with a block of material and whittling it away until it becomes a finished product, 3D printing starts with nothing and composes objects from many slices or layers. As a result, businesses that use this technology can reduce waste, easily customize goods and produce items in small quantities.
How you approach 3D printing depends just as much on your material and colour requirements as it does on available technology. As the 3D printing industry continues evolving, new materials and technology will give you more opportunities to create products and components with additive processes.
Now that you know what 3D printing is, how it works and what technologies and materials can be used in the process, you can continue reading the next chapter where you will learn about the origins of this technology in the 1980s and the exciting history that has brought it to you today in its present form.
2. A Short History of 3D Printing
Now that you know the basics of 3D printing technology, this chapter will introduce you to its beginnings. Once you become familiar with the history of additive manufacturing, you will understand the amazing opportunities it can offer you both in the present and in the future.
Past generations marvelled at digital technology, especially as the personal computer rocked the world. Even then, probably no one could imagine that they could create complicated tangible objects on a computer screen and afterward soon hold it in their hands.
You might think of 3D printing as a new technological development but, as you will soon see, it took a long time to become practical and feasible. In fact, from the time the concept was first articulated until now, more than three decades have passed.
Ultimaker Too by Tonnerre Lombard licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
1980s: The Invention of Main 3D Printing Techniques
To begin with, rapid prototyping technologies (RP) emerged in the 1980s as a means to quickly and economically produce prototypes.
History traces the beginning of 3D printing to 1981 when Hideo Kodama, a Japanese researcher, documented a process that would create 3D objects from the assembly of numerous layers. The process would eventually become the predecessor to stereolithography apparatus technology (SLA). Due to a paperwork discrepancy, Dr. Kodama was unable to secure a patent for his work.
Five years later, Charles Hull filed a patent for SLA and helped launch 3D Systems, a company that continues to play a major role in the world of 3D printing technology. The company made history when it launched its first RP printer model, the SLA-1 in 1987. Although SLA had the attention of industry at the time, other researchers were simultaneously developing alternative solutions.
Just a couple years after the SLA-1, Carl Deckard won a patent for his newly developed system called selective laser sintering (SLS). This technology eventually made its way to 3D Systems via their acquisition of the SLS licensee, DTM.
Next, in 1989, Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) was patented by Scott Crump of Stratasys, a company which still controls FDM as a proprietary technology. In that same year, a German, Hans Langer started the EOS GmbH company which focused on developing laser sintering technology. EOS current success testifies to the enduring relevance of this technology.
Aside from SLA, SLS and FDM, other 3D technologies also emerged in the 1980’s. For instance, direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) resulted from a partnership between EOS and a Finish unit of Electrolux. Other processes such as ballistic particle manufacturing and solid ground curing either failed to gain traction or appealed to niche markets.
1990s: The Development of 3D Printers and Tools
The following decade saw the first EOS “Stereos” printer become available both for prototyping and production applications. Although the industry largely focused on prototyping applications, research and development operations focusing on tooling and direct manufacturing also began in the 1990s. As a result, the industry jargon now included terms such as rapid tooling and direct manufacturing.
Notable companies from this era included names such as Solidscape which began as Sanders Prototype. Zcorporation, Objet Technologies as well as a vacuum casting firm, MCP, all worked on their own systems to support additive manufacturing. Consequently, the global market for 3D printing exploded along with the number of newly developed technologies.
Before the end of the decade, the term additive manufacturing became part of the vernacular and was used to collectively describe the 3D printing industry. Meanwhile, other technologies including laminated objects manufacturing (LOM) were becoming popular. Furthermore, the evolution of computer aided design software increased the demand for 3D printing technology.
At that time, scientists first began developing ways to take human cells and use them to print replacement organs and tissues. Such medical uses promised to reduce problems such as supply and organ rejection that can complicate transplants. In fact, the framework was laid in the 1990s for many modern-day medical and health-related products such as 3D-printed teeth.
As the new century approached, analysts and industry players alike could tell that 3D printing would disrupt practically every corner of the business world. Unfortunately, the crowded industry and too many parallel efforts in research and development meant that the industry would consolidate as it evolved.
2000s: Accessibility of 3D Printing
For the most part, 3D printing remained in the industrial sector until halfway through the decade of the 2000s. After that, the accelerating pace of innovation effectively caused the industry to split in two different directions.
To begin with, machines capable of printing complicated components with precision presented new opportunities to manufacturers who traditionally relied on subtractive processes such as milling and drilling. The new machines reduced waste and allowed the economical production of small batches while speeding production.
At the same time, another part of the industry continued evolving that emphasized the ability to quickly print functional prototypes. Such printers were used to accelerate the product development processes in many industries. As a result, companies were able to quickly adapt to changing customer specifications while improving overall quality.
Makerbot Industries – Replicator 2 – 3D-printer 09 by Creative Tools licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
As a result of the effort to produce faster, less-expensive 3D printers, the prototyping industry gave birth to consumer-grade products. These ground-breaking devices were still expensive and complicated but were the forerunners of the printers you might buy today from a retail outlet.
Despite the increased availability of 3D printing, the industry was still developing. As a result, companies invested a lot of money in research as well as in the creation of “proof of concept” printers that would test new technologies in real-world settings.
3D Systems, in 2007, delivered the first sub-$10,000 3D printer. Subsequently, a price war began as competing companies sought to break the $5,000 price barrier. An early contender, a company called Desktop Factory showed promise when 3D Systems acquired it, but the venture eventually failed in 2007.
Perhaps the biggest development of 2007 was the development of the revolutionary open source RepRap printer. Users could download the plans and the parts files for a functional 3D printer, print the parts on a 3D printer and then assemble the printer themselves. After assembling a RepRap, users could have the printer print out a kit of parts that could be used for spares or to give to another person. As a result, the RepRap earned accolades as the first-ever self-replicating printer.
Before 2010, the first commercially available 3D printer entered the market. The RepMan printer was a kit that used the concept of the RepRap. Although users still had to assemble it themselves, it offered the first opportunity for many individuals and small businesses to get their hands on 3D printing technology.
Afterward, new developments as early as 2012 increased the affordability of 3D printers. Soon, pre-assembled, fully functional models would fill store shelves, signifying that 3D printing was now available to the masses.
In the past few years, corporate media outlets have started increasingly reporting on 3D technology, causing public awareness of 3D printing to spread. Such publicity also helped spread the word about ground-breaking products such as the Carbon 3D CLIP 3D printer in 2015. The following year, Daniel Kelly produced the first 3D-printed bone.
After such a long history, the consumer side of 3D printing now shows signs of commoditization. In fact, Mattel released its “ThingMaker” printer in 2016 for a list price of only $299. Additionally, that same year HP, a global computer and printer manufacturer, released its first 3D printer.
On the other side of the industry, the developments in the field of additive manufacturing have accomplished amazing things. For example, in 2014, work began on the first 3D-printed house. As a result, the world will soon have new options for solving housing crises.
Meanwhile, the medical utility of 3D printing became widely known in 2015 when the first flexible printed prosthetic arm was attached to a Cambodian fisherman.
History continues to move forward as NASA becomes a major force in the development of printed food and has already deployed a zero-gravity 3D printer in space. In another interesting twist, the potential of mini 3D printers was demonstrated by Louis DeRosa who used a printing pen to build an operational drone.
In summary, the history of 3D printing spans a longer time frame than you might have realized. From its humble origins in the mind of a Japanese doctor, the natural human drive to discover, invent and create made additive manufacturing a reality. Now, industries in every corner of the globe depend on 3D printing technology for components and finished products alike.
Practically everyone can own a 3D printer today and find new and innovative ways to use it to improve their lives and generate income. In other words, 3D printing has already shown practically unlimited potential for science, medicine, business applications as well as for your personal and professional life.
After learning about the history of 3D printing, along with the basics of the technology, in the next chapter, you will read about 3D printing today and learn about its applications and benefits.
3. 3D Printing Today
Without a doubt, you can say that 3D printing has reached its prime. To begin with, the cost of printers has dramatically declined in recent years, making them more accessible and feasible than ever. At the same time, the quality and accuracy of these printers have improved. Also, the selection of printable materials has grown, increasing the number of potential applications for additive manufacturing.
By 2016, the estimated value of the overall market for 3D printing was $7 billion. Also, in that year, almost half a million 3D printers were in use around the world. As you might imagine, the number of uses for 3D printing technology has grown, adding to its advantages.
As more small business and private people adopt 3D printing, they have gained capabilities that once only large corporations enjoyed. Practically anyone can design and product parts, products and assemblies for either resale or personal use with a high level of customization.
Below, you will learn about the state of 3D printing today including the industries where it is used and the many benefits it offers. As you read, you might get some ideas for using this technology to improve your business and personal life.
The Applications of 3D Printing
3D printing gives people a new way to solve problems and create opportunities. As a result, you can see the effects of 3D printing everywhere in our society. From social and environmental applications to improvements to security and manufacturing, this technology has already changed many lives and the world.
Practically every day, new solutions emerge that depend on 3D printing and you can expect innovations to continue to enter the marketplace well into the future. For now, however, you can reflect on some of the current applications of this technology.
Beyond manufacturing, the health care industry was among the earliest to embrace 3D technology. Suppliers can create on demand common items such as joint replacements and other implants customized for particular patients. Similarly, everything from hearing aids to dental fittings can be printed to fit the unique shapes and sizes of individuals. Additionally, patients can enjoy other printed products designed to fit them such as shoe insoles and prosthetics. In the past, such on demand, customized production was nearly impossible. Now, it is both commonly available and affordable.
New developments such as printable skin, bones, heart valves, and human organs will soon become available and give people a chance to live fuller, longer lives than ever. Certainly, many innovations may take years before they meet quality and regulatory standards, but the fact is that they will become reality.
As already seen in the last chapter, 3D-printed cars already exist, although they might not have the features and specifications needed to become mainstream. Still, 3D printing already impacts the automotive industry. For example, automakers have long depended on 3D printers for making prototypes of their vehicles and systems.
Additionally, manufacturers now use 3D-printed components to reduce costs and customize vehicles while improving quality. In fact, auto companies now anticipate the day when they can replace their spare parts inventories with on-demand printed components.
Technology that allows printing with pure metals, strong alloys and composites naturally appeals to the aviation industry. Already, 3D-printed components are in use in operational aircraft and that usage will likely increase with the passage of time, especially as new printable materials become available.
Additionally, as in the automotive industry, aerospace firms have long used 3D printers to speed prototyping and reduce its cost. As the proliferation of 3D printing continues, you can also expect companies to depend on it to reduce inventoried parts and reduce production costs.
Like many other professionals, architects use 3D printers to make their designs come to life before builders go to work. As a result, they can more accurately meet client specifications. Also, contractors can get project approvals faster and reduce the potential for delays during construction.
In the long run, you can expect to see additive manufacturing take a prominent role in the physical aspects of construction. In fact, the concept of printable houses has already been proven. Soon people can choose from a host of new materials when building their homes. Furthermore, the ability to print houses in remote locations means that 3D printing can help address global housing shortages.
Although the technology for printing food has not evolved to such a point, it has been proven feasible. NASA has driven the development of printable cuisine with an eye toward using it to sustain astronauts for long-duration space missions.
Scientists and activists alike view the idea of printable food as a way to feed earthbound populations with restricted access to reliable and sustainable food sources. So far, the technology seems promising for creating food with good nutritional balance, but good-tasting food might take a little extra time to engineer.
The 3D printing revolution means that businesses have a chance to create custom jewellery on demand to meet the needs of customers. Beyond that, the contribution of additive manufacturing to the fashion world might surprise you.
Catwalks around the world now host printed items that range from bags to hats. Imaginative designers have also shown off their 3D-printed creations in the form of dresses, gowns and underwear. Eventually, perhaps everyone will have printed items in their wardrobe.
Armed with their creativity, artists have embraced 3D printing in ways that ordinary people might never consider. In fact, additive manufacturing has provided for the creation of entire genres that feature modelling, scanning and printing in three dimensions. Furthermore, many artists have chosen to build their careers using this technology.
3D technology also helps the world of art understand and preserve history. New modelling and scanning techniques give historians a way to study and recreate ancient artwork such as sculptures. Thanks to the availability of 3D printing, museums and governments can scan ancient objects in 3D and make them available to schools so art students can learn from exact replicas.
The Benefits of 3D Printing
Already, you probably have a sense that 3D printing offers many advantages to businesses and consumers. As with most disruptive technologies, additive manufacturing offers businesses, consumers and the world benefits that affect finances, learning, quality of life and the planet.
Naturally, an exhaustive list of the advantages additive manufacturing offers to you and the world would take a lot of space. Therefore, for the sake of brevity, you will enjoy a brief review of some of the most notable benefits that 3D technology has to offer.
Modern consumers love to have products that are personalized to their preferences. Regardless of whether they want a phone case, jewellery or a hand bag, they love having the ability to either choose or create their design. 3D printing makes that type of personalization possible.
In the business world and households alike, the need arises for a custom one-of-a-kind part either to replace an obsolete or broken part or to experiment with a new idea. Such unlimited opportunities for customization only became practical with the advent of additive manufacturing.
Traditional production methods often require long lead times and large batches to keep expenses low. From a financial perspective alone, high-degrees of customization for business customers and consumers historically have often been cost prohibitive. Now, thanks to 3D printing, endless possibilities exist for the customization of goods without increasing cost or wasting time, materials and labour.
At first, the production of personalized goods might seem more as a luxury than a necessity. Many settings, however, demand the production of the unique and complex components that only 3D printers can deliver. In fact, options for customization continue to grow in number, especially as the number of available materials for use in printing increases.
For the most part, the history of 3D printers demonstrates a trend toward simplicity. Despite their use of advanced technologies, 3D printers operate with a level of simplicity that was hard to achieve in standard manufacturing environments. Such simplicity benefits businesses and personal users alike by reducing operating costs and improving machine up time.
Additive manufacturing can also simplify production processes. For example, 3D printers can print complicated assemblies and thereby reduce the need for manual labour. Such simplicity of production simultaneously improves the accuracy and quality of such parts by reducing the opportunity for human error.
Subtractive machines often require much time and effort to prepare for production and then to wrap up after completing a job. 3D printing offers benefits in this regard by providing the means to quickly change from producing one output to another. Such flexibility means that one set of equipment can on-the-fly adjust to the needs of the company, thereby reducing costs and improving customer satisfaction.
Finally, the simplicity offered by 3D printers means that manufacturing firms can operate with less space while simultaneously improving their capabilities. Simplicity in this regard means that companies can dramatically reduce their operating overhead and, as a result, improve their profitability.
Cost and Time Savings
In the past, prototypes created with conventional techniques cost quite a lot in terms of time and money. In addition to customization capabilities and ease of use, the 3D printing technology offers substantial savings in terms of cost and time that result in an operational economy and contribute to a healthy bottom line.
For example, the ability to create on-demand prototypes saves money by giving engineers, designers and marketers more opportunities to create products that precisely meet customer expectations. In the past, the production of prototypes required a lot of time, money and labour, so even large manufacturers felt compelled to limit their use.
Similarly, 3D printing helps save time and money during production cycles. After all, traditional manufacturing environments require long lead times that were labour intensive. With this in mind, companies needed to order large quantity batches of goods to reduce the average cost per item. Now, businesses can print small quantities, including individual units, at a low cost with few delays. Furthermore, the ability to print assembled components minimizes the cost of production labour.
For the most part, 3D printers produce goods with a consistent per-item cost. In other words, the average cost per item stays the same, regardless of the quantity produced. As a result, additive manufacturing allows companies to more accurately predict their production costs.
For the most part, additive manufacturing equipment requires less energy than CNC equipment and other subtractive technology. Although this means that companies can reduce their energy costs, it also means that manufacturing consumes fewer natural resources.
The sustainability advantages of 3D printing from another perspective point toward a reduction of waste. Subtractive processes generally produce more waste since they reduce large blocks of material into finished components. Additionally, the energy expended on recycling helps to add to the environmental load. On the other hand, additive processes print only the material needed for a particular design.
Also, in some cases, the materials used for 3D printing can have sustainability advantages over materials used for conventional manufacturing. For this reason, you can make your entire supply chain more sustainable. Furthermore, recycling becomes more feasible for the end users of 3D-printed goods.
Finally, 3D printing can improve sustainability by reducing the cost of logistics in terms of energy and environmental harm. For instance, the on-demand capabilities of this technology help businesses operate with little or no inventory.
At the same time, the portability of 3D printers means that they can be shipped anywhere in the world to produce goods on-site. Hence, the technology has the potential to curtail the number of global freight shipments along with their associated energy consumption and environmental emissions.
In the final analysis, 3D printing today is in a mature state. As shown above, the technology already has many real-world applications which are right now offering many benefits to businesses and consumers alike. Of course, the full potential of additive manufacturing has yet to be realized, so look for future advances that will make the technology even more desirable. With this in mind, the next chapter will help you get started with 3D printing.
4. Getting Started With 3D Printing
Having a basic awareness of 3D printing and its history can make the technology less intimidating when you decide to embrace it. Although prices for 3D printers have dropped, you might want to explore the technology more before spending any money.
In such a case, you can find ways to try 3D printing without spending a lot of money. After all, local libraries, colleges and technical schools often have these printers available for public use either for free or a small fee.
Meanwhile, third party services such as Sculpteo or Shapeways allow you to upload your 3D designs for printing and then have the outputs sent directly to you. In other words, you can get practical experience with this technology without a need to buy any equipment.
Of course, if you have serious intentions for integrating 3D printing into your business and life, you probably should buy one as soon as possible. This chapter will inform you of the things you need to know to get started with this technology.
3D printer by Thomas Quine licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Common 3D Printer Styles
For the most part, you will quickly discover that fused deposition modelling (FDM) is the most popular technology for 3D printing. As has been noted, this technology works by unravelling a plastic or metal filament from a spool of material through a printhead. During the printing process, the material melts as the printer creates multiple layers. Those layers become fused and ultimately create a 3D object.
Also, remember that the FDM process uses a special file format, stereolithography (STL) to calculate and “slice” layers from your design. Afterward, the printer uses a grid system to determine where to deposit material as it creates your output. Although this may be true of all FDM printers, several variations of this technology exist.
- Cartesian – This style of FDM printer moves the print head around the X-Y plane and the bed of the printer manages the third (Z) dimension. The bed lowers incrementally to compensate for the height of each layer. Although you might like the precision of this format, remember that Cartesian XY printers require a lightweight bed and the print heads move at a relatively constant speed. Another variation of the Cartesian system uses an X-Z grid for the extrusion head and the bed comprises the Y axis. In these units, the print bed can hold more weight. Also, they use automatic systems to level the printer bed provide additional capacity.
- Delta –Delta configurations use three arms to form a triangular pattern that holds the extruder head as it moves about the output area. This printer uses a circular bed to hold its output. You should also know that delta FDM printers use lightweight components that make it easy for the printer to quickly move the head as it prints. As a result, delta-style printers have a reputation for increased speed and precision.
- Polar –FDM printers that use polar coordinates to map output layers have a bed that rotates as well as a print head that moves in all directions. Generally speaking, because they have only two stepper motors, these printers consume less power and therefore can offer some savings in terms of total cost of ownership (TCO).
- Scara – SCARA stands for selective compliance assembly robotic arm. This three-dimensional printing method provides a high amount of precision within a small space. To many people, this type of printer looks like the kind of robot you might find on an automotive production line. The long arms used by SCARA systems enable these printers to create larger objects than those produced by other FDM methods.
Choosing a 3D Printer
Planning can help make a smooth experience out of shopping for a 3D printer. To begin with, you should consider what you want to accomplish with your new device. You also need to think about your technical aptitude and the amount of time and effort you want to invest in maintaining and optimizing your printer.
After defining your overall goals and personal preferences, you should also consider some other important factors as you shop.
Before shopping, spend some time figuring out how much you can afford to spend on your new 3D printer. When you do this, you give yourself a chance to stay within your budget.
For the most part, you will find that output quality plays the biggest role in determining the price. For instance, you might find a 3D printer in the neighbourhood of $100 which is very affordable for a beginner but it might not deliver in terms of quality. Prices for consumer-grade printers which can create 3D prints of higher quality can approach $2,000 and professional models can cost substantially more than that.
As shown above, you will probably notice a positive correlation between the quality of output delivered by a printer its price. Despite any budgetary concerns that might affect your choice of a printer, you need to consider quality in terms of both print resolution and speed.
While resolution describes the precision with which a printer can replicate a design, speed refers to how quickly the printer can move its print head. In most cases, printer manufacturers will tell you specifications such as the thinnest and thickest layers a printer can print.
Another factor of print quality, nozzle diameter affects the ability of a printer to recreate minute design details. Even the most precise extrusion head will do no good for you if the printer has a low positioning accuracy rating, so be sure to check the numbers on the X, Y and Z axis for any printer you consider buying.
When you get serious about choosing a particular printer, see if you can see a sample of its output. After all, numbers on paper mean nothing if the real-world performance of the printer fails to meet your requirements.
What sizes are the objects that you need to print? Although a single print job can print multiple small pieces, the printer cannot print an object beyond its specified build volume. For the most part, printers for the desktop and hobbyist can print in a space of 380 cubic millimetres or smaller.
If you fail to choose a printer that has an adequate build volume, you will have to print your objects in pieces and then glue them together. Such a process can diminish the quality of your finished goods and create unnecessary demands on your time. Ideally, you should choose a printer that has a capacity that is somewhat bigger than your largest anticipated print job.
Although some 3D printers can print with a wide range of materials, some cannot. With this in mind, you should make sure that the printer you buy can use the materials that you need.
For casual users, materials such as ABS, PLA may suffice. If you have particular business requirements or if you want to explore alternative materials, you might have to pay a little extra to get the flexibility that you need.
Ease of Use
Some printers can have fantastic specifications and an alluring price tag but require an inordinate amount of operator expertise. Furthermore, some printers can demand a rigorous maintenance regime and demanding system and software requirements. For this reason, you should always evaluate ease of use.
Find out about the availability of parts and supplies for a printer before you buy it. Similarly, you should make sure that the printer you choose has an intuitive on-screen menu that guides you through common printing and maintenance tasks.
Because the opportunity is limited for you to get hands-on experience with a printer before buying it, learn about its ease of use via online product reviews and customer feedback. In the end, you might want to pay a little extra to get a printer that will save you time, money and headaches as you use it.
3D Printing Tools
When you print in 3D, you will have to perform some routine jobs that require some tools you might not already have on hand. To prepare yourself for this task, make sure you have the following items in your toolbox.
- Digital Calliper – Your digital calliper will help you verify the precision of your prints and compare your outputs to your digital designs. Additionally, printer filament often deviates from its stated thickness, so you will also use your calliper to measure the actual thickness of your printer filament. If you take several measurements and average them, you can adjust your software to improve your results.
Standard Issue Digital Caliper by Andrew Plumb licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
- Spatula or palette knife –Sometimes a 3D output will firmly stick to the print bed and make removal by hand seem impossible. In such a case, you will need to get out your palette knife or spatula to do the job. Try to get both rigid and flexible palette knives so that you have the right tool for every situation.
- Tweezers – If you have tweezers on hand, you can easily stop filament from leaking from the print head without burning your fingertips. Tweezers will also help you clean up a finished print. You can buy a set of tweezers that have different shapes and various sizes to ensure that you have the right one for every print job.
- A set of pliers – Pliers will help you remove prints that stick to your print bed and help you fix problems with your printer. There are several different varieties of pliers you can buy which will help you in different situations. With this in mind, be sure to have wire-cutting pliers that you can use to trim support material and filament.
- Painter’s tape – You will need to get some blue masking tape to cover the print bed of your printer. Doing this will improve the adhesion of your outputs during printing and facilitate removal upon completion. Also, by covering your print bed with tape, you will prevent scratches and minimize warping. As an alternative to painter’s tape, you can buy Kapton tape which is designed to withstand high temperatures. This kind of tape costs a lot more than masking tape, so you will probably want to use it only if you use an ABS filament. Otherwise, while printing with PLA, you can stick with painters tape.
- Glue Stick – Before you begin, printing, simply cover your bed with glue from either an Elmer’s or Pritt water soluble glue stick. This will work even if you have covered your print bed with tape. Although some people use hairspray for this purpose, you will probably find that the glue stick gives you precise control over its application and thereby eliminate the problems that occur when the hairspray accidentally covers moving printer parts.
- Desiccant – Moisture can, over time, contaminate your filament. When this happens, the quality of your print jobs will suffer. In severe cases, you might have to discard water-contaminated filaments. To solve this problem, store your filaments in a sealed container together with packets of silica gel. If possible, buy the kind that has an indicator that can alert you when the desiccant has become saturated.
- Hobby Knife – A hobby knife such as those made by X-Acto will help you trim strings and droplets of filament from your finished print jobs. The sharp blades for your hobby knife can damage the surfaces of your workspace, so be sure to also buy a cutting mat.
- Sandpaper – To facilitate post-print processing, make sure you get a variety of sandpaper. Generally, you should have a section that ranges from 1000-grit fine sandpaper to coarse 220-grit. You should know that the grit of low-quality sandpaper quickly wears off, so paying a little extra to get a good brand might be worthwhile.
- Screwdrivers/hex key screwdrivers – The gantry and stepper-motor screws on your printer can come loose, so make sure that you have screw and hex-key drivers that will fit. Moreover, you will discover that your printer has a variety of screws and bolts that will periodically require tightening or adjustment.
Now that you know how to plan and shop for your 3D printer and get the necessary, you will have essential information for getting started with 3D printing, you understandably will want to start printing right away. Before you do, however, make sure you read the next chapter that will guide you through the 3D printing process.
5. The 3D Printing Process
Your journey into 3D printing has brought you from a basic review of the technology and an introduction to its history to a review of its applications. In the previous chapter, you learned how to get started with 3D printing by choosing a printer and assembling a tool box. Now, the time has come to execute your first 3D printing process.
This chapter will guide you through the 3D printing process which, generally speaking, begins with the creation of a 3D model and ends when the finished product is in your hands.
Designing a 3D Model
3D printing gives everyone from hobbyists to engineers the ability to convert their thoughts and ideas into tangible objects without involving conventional manufacturing processes. Additionally, your 3D printer gives you production capacity that you can leverage to either start or augment your own small business. If you work in an industrial setting, you can use your new additive manufacturing capacity to develop and improve your products.
Regardless of whether you want to build a drone or a paperweight, you can do it with the right 3D printer and design software. When it comes to creating a 3D model, you have a few options. You can either download a ready-made 3D model from the internet, you can also scan an existing object or create one from scratch using computer aided software (CAD).
3D Printer by MKzero licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
A broad range of 3D scanners on the market gives you the ability to make digital copies of existing objects. As is the case with 3D printers, however, the capabilities of scanners vary from one model to the next. For example, a low-cost do-it-yourself scanner might suffice to satisfy your curiosity, but might not meet the needs of a production environment. For example, using devices such as the Microsoft Kinect to perform 3D scans can meet the needs of some 3D designers.
Multiple technologies exist that drive 3D scanning and affect both their price and performance. Some of the most common types of scanners include volumetric scanning that works similar to medical CT and MRI scans. Another kind of scanner, structured light, shines a pattern onto an object and then measures its distortion to determine its shape. Meanwhile, time-of-flight scanners work in ways similar to laser range finders to determine the distance and angles of a scanned object.
3D modelling software
You will use your modelling software to create and modify your designs as part of the 3D printing process. Similarly to 3D printers and scanners, you will have many software solutions from which to choose. For the most part, the modelling software that you choose will have an optimum balance between features, simplicity and price.
As a beginner, you probably want to choose software that has a user-friendly interface and intuitive menus to minimize your learning curve and quickly become productive. Also, this type of software comes in several forms, including cloud-based applications for a monthly charge, on-site software with either user or site licenses, and free or low-cost open source software.
Some software applications that you might consider include 3D Slash an application that can run either from the cloud or on your local computer. The app makes the 3D printing process almost as fun as playing a game. Google has a similar application called Sketchup that supplies advanced functionality without sacrificing usability. Other popular applications that you might want to consider include 123D and TinkerCAD.
As you learn how to use modelling software, you should also learn about some of the terms, measurements and specifications that apply to 3D printing. Volume size, minimal thickness and tolerance all affect how you design and print in 3D. Needless to say, the software that you use needs to give you complete control over those parameters.
Finally, regardless of whether you scan an existing object into 3D or design a new one from scratch, you need to export your files in STL format so your printer can slice it.
Slicing a 3D Model
The next step, slicing your 3D model, prepares your work for printing. For the most part, the 3D slicing program that you use will come with the manufacturer of your device, although you can choose to use alternatives such as the open-source slicer Cura or the commercial application Simply3D.
Through the slicing process, your 3D design is broken into two-dimensional layers that your printer will soon print in a stack. The number of slices generated depends both on your design and your printer. Also, the slicing process might add support material for the parts of your design that overhang lower printed layers. You can allow your software to automatically add support material or you can manually choose to add supports.
In addition to slicing, your software can give you a chance to position the location of your print job relative to the print bed. Also, you will have a chance to resize it, set the printing resolution and adjust the print head temperature and speed. After slicing, you will have a print-ready file in G-code format. Normally, you can transfer this file to your printer over your wireless network or via a USB or SD storage device.
Choosing the Right Filament
Naturally, part of the 3D printing process includes deciding which material to use. Generally speaking, you can choose from two categories of 3D printers. The first group includes printers designed for industrial settings. The second group includes the 3D printers that meet the needs of private individuals and small businesses.
Industrial users of additive manufacturing technology have access to a broad range of specialized printers and materials to use with them. In fact, as has been noted, materials for industrial firms can range from living cells to food to precious metals. For the purpose of brevity, this guide discusses consumer models and therefore assumes that you have fewer choices.
3D printing filament by westonhighschool library licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
In the case of an inkjet printer, you must make sure that you buy the right type of ink cartridge for it before you can print on paper. For consumer 3D printers that use FDM technology, you will need to buy a filament, rather than ink. In the first place, you need to know what diameter of filament fits your printer. Next, choose which type of filament, given that diameter. For the most part, you can choose from three types of filaments that commonly work with FDM systems.
- ABS – One of the cheapest plastic filaments available, Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), works as a multi-purpose material that resists heat and features strength and durability. You can sand and paint the objects that you print with ABS, making it a perfect choice for many applications. Although ABS will not naturally decompose, it is recyclable, so you can use it with a minimal cost to the environment. Consider Lego building blocks as an example of what you can do with ABS. Although produced on a global scale, the popular children’s product demonstrates how practical and durable ABS parts can be.
- PLA – Printing with Polylactic Acid (PLA) gives you a chance to use a fully renewable and biodegradable material. For that reason, PLA filaments have the least environmental impact of the commonly available filaments. The physical characteristics of PLA, however, make it less flexible than ABS. For example, the material, though hard, tends to become brittle. Also, the material slowly cools and can complicate tough production schedules. Although you can sand and paint objects printed in PLA, you might find the use of adhesives with it more challenging than when working with ABS. Generally, the ease of use and sustainability of PLA combine to make it an attractive option.
- PVA – The water solubility of Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) makes it attractive as a support material. After printing, you can remove the material simply by soaking it in water and allowing it to dissolve. As a result, you can have complicated designs without the risks that come with using a knife. Despite the benefits of PVA, the material has limitations. For example, to use it, you need to have a printer that can simultaneously print with more than one type of material. In other words, using PVA requires the use of a printer with more than one print extruder. Also, PVA is relatively expensive and difficult to find.
Preparing the Printer
Now that you have all the tools and supplies needed to begin printing, your next job is preparing your printer for action. This step of the printing process can dramatically affect the quality of your result, so you should resist the urge to take shortcuts. Instead, take a systematic approach to making sure that you have configured your printer with the right settings for each particular print job.
Of course, the type of printer you have and the nature of your 3D design will determine the difficulty of this step. As has been noted, printers can range from basic economy models to professional units with extraordinary capabilities. For this reason, you need to familiarize yourself with the documentation that came with your printer so that you know what you have to do to get a useable output.
For example, you need to make sure that the material you have chosen will work with your printer. Failure to take this simple precaution can either damage your printer or create unsatisfactory results. Additionally, you have to make sure you have adjusted every setting that will impact your finished product. This usually involves navigating through the online menu on your printer.
In some cases, your printer might have wizards and prompts that can simplify preparation, so refer to the documentation that came with your device to learn how to access such tools. Also, if you plan on using more than one configuration, see if your printer gives you the ability to save your settings. Such user-defined presets can help you save time as you switch between jobs.
Again, every printer has its own requirements for print preparation. These might include adding or refilling materials, adding trays or making adjustments to the extruder. After you have completed every setting and verified the status of your printer, you can hit “print”.
Printing the 3D Model
After initiating the printing process, you can expect your print job to automatically finish. At this point, you need to exercise patience. Depending on your printer and the design you print, you might have to with for hours or days until the job completes. During this time, resist the urge to reset your printer or change settings to make it go faster. Instead, periodically check for printer errors and problems with the output.
When your object has printed and your printed shows that its work has finished, allow it sufficient time to cool and solidify. Also, you must exercise caution as you remove it from the printer bed. Carelessness can result in breakage and require you to restart the entire 3D printing process.
As soon as your print job finishes, you probably will discover that it requires some additional work. For example, removing any powder and support material will rank as one of your highest priorities. Also, if you printed in metal, you will probably need to polish and machine your object. Furthermore, plastic items will often require you to dye and polish them before they go into use.
For the most part, practically any printed object might require sanding to eliminate imperfections and rectify sharp or irregular edges. Although dying, sanding and polishing might sound like simple tasks, they require a lot of care when dealing with 3D-printed items. Always remember that the objects printed by your printer are brittle, especially right after the process finishes.
Now that you have thoroughly reviewed the 3D printing process you have all that you need to print your first job. Be easy on yourself if something goes wrong. After all, you are learning something completely new. With a little patience and time, you will master the process of 3D design and scanning, using the software, slicing your object, choosing the material and updating your settings.
Although you have completed a major milestone in your personal or business life by printing your 3D design, you still have a few more things to learn. The next and final chapter of this guide will offer useful tips for 3D printing that address the topics of safety and maintenance.
6. 3D Printing Safety and Maintenance
Now that you are familiar with the 3D printing process, you need to get a good understanding of the safety and maintenance issues that are related to working with a 3D printer. For the most part, you can expect your 3D printer to provide you with a safe and reliable operation. However, if you fail to follow simple best-practices for safety, your printer can cause discomfort, injuries and fire.
In the same fashion, if you forget to follow an effective maintenance schedule, you can shorten the life of your printer and subject yourself and other users to additional safety risks.
Make sure you apply the following information to your work, so you can enjoy a relationship with your printer that is as long as it is satisfying.
3D Printing Safety
While using a 3D printer, you need to follow some general safety guidelines. Generally, the documentation provided by the manufacturer will cover the requirements for safely operating your unit. If you have lost the manual or if you bought your printer used, either contact the manufacturer directly or visit their website to obtain a new one.
The key safety principle, wearing safety gear, will protect vulnerable parts of your body as well as your clothing when using your 3d printer. After all, 3D printing involves heat, hazardous materials and liquids that can cause damage. To give yourself a general layer of protection, wear a lab coat while working with your printer.
Additionally, you should always wear chemical and heat resistant gloves while working with your 3D printer, printing materials and newly printed objects. Doing so will protect your skin from burns and prevent your body from absorbing toxic chemicals. Synthetic latex (nitrile) gloves resist chemicals and solvents and easily slip onto and off from your hands.
Similarly, you should wear safety goggles during post processing to prevent dust and bits of material from damaging your eyes. Also, be sure to wear a dust mask and reduce the amount of dust by choosing a low-emission printer and print materials.
The heat of the extruder heads and the 3D output during the printing process represents a severe burn risk. The extruder head can reach temperatures in excess of 250°C. For this reason, you can get severe burns on your fingers and hands if you touch the printhead during the printing process. Another burn hazard is the 3D-printed material which comes out of the printhead at an equally high temperature
Finally, many printers have heated beds that have temperatures in excess of 100°C. Despite being cooler than the extruder and freshly printed material, you can still get burned if you touch the print bed either during or immediately after use.
To prevent accidental burns, always keep the cover of your printer closed once a print job has begun. If you need to touch either its components or the printed material while hot, make sure you wear protective gloves. After printing, be sure to allow your printer sufficient time to cool before touching the nozzles and let your object cool down before handling it.
As has been noted, 3D printers get very hot during normal operations. In addition to the threat of burns, this intense heat can also cause fires. You can obviously minimize this risk by keeping flammable items such as paper, a safe distance from your printer.
Sometimes the risk of fire can come from the printer itself, especially if parts of it are made from wood. By the same token, unexpected forces can come into play during printing, so keep children and pets away from your printer and periodically check on your printer throughout the printing process. Also, if possible, install a smoke detector to alert you of a fire and keep an extinguisher nearby.
Toxic Vapors and Nanoparticles
During the printing process, your 3D printer may release ultra-fine particles that can affect your lungs, skin, nervous system and brain. To put it differently, long-term exposure to this kind of dust can lead to health problems. The number of particles released during the printing process can vary depending on your printer and printing material.
Another threat, the fumes created during printing, can also negatively affect your health. ABS can release toxic gases that can cause respiratory discomfort. On the other hand, printing with PLA generates fewer vapors because of its organic composition.
With this in mind, you should make sure that you operate your printer in a well-ventilated space. By all means, you should wear clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible. Also, you will need to select and wear a mask that can filter such minuscule particles.
Printing in 3D requires the use of mechanisms unlike those found in ordinary printers. As a result, even the simplest 3D printer has intricate assemblies that make the creation of layers possible. Many of these parts pose a threat to careless users.
For instance, the small stepper motors used to move the print extruder and print bed have enough power to trap fingers, hair and clothing. As a result, a person could get hurt. Moreover, such an incident could cause severe damage to your printer.
As a rule, you need to exercise caution while wearing loose clothes and jewellery. Similarly, you should keep your hands and hair away from moving parts, especially while the printer is operating.
Not only do you have the responsibility to exercise caution while working in and around your printer, but also the duty to educate other people, especially children, who might also use your printer. Given these points, you should never let anyone below the age of 14 use your printer without supervision.
When something gets caught in the print mechanism, you should disengage the stepper motors before moving the print head along its three axes. For expediency and safety, you may want to turn off the printer while you remove tangled items.
3D Printing Tools
If you have followed this guide, you have already assembled a tool kit to help you get the best results from your 3D-printing experience. Always remember that those tools can cause injuries if improperly used.
In addition to the sharp edges of scrapers and knives, you should cautiously handle printed materials, because they also can have edges that can cut skin and tear clothes. Additionally, the use of hairspray and acetone can expose you and nearby people to vapours that can make breathing difficult.
Most of all make sure you periodically review the contents of your toolbox to make sure that your tools are clean and in working order. Never use a broken tool or use a tool for a purpose for which it is not intended.
Maintaining Your 3D Printer
To a certain extent, safety and maintenance go hand in hand. After all, a well-maintained 3D printer will have fewer malfunctions. Also, you will have fewer opportunities to get hurt if your printer is well maintained than you would if you constantly were trying to resolve problems during production.
The owner’s manual that came with your printer provides you a good foundation for an effective maintenance regimen.
Generally speaking, the many moving parts that comprise your 3D printer will necessarily lead to occasional failure. Making things worse, some companies deliberately use low-quality components as part of their effort to provide a low selling price.
These factors alone should encourage you to perform routine inspections and maintenance on your unit. Of course, some maintenance tasks focus on other aspects of your printer rather than on moving parts.
The following common guidelines can help you develop a responsible maintenance routine which will help your printer run with as few malfunctions as possible.
Update The Printer’s Firmware
Your printer has built-in software known as „firmware,” that governs its operation. In fact, it controls every part of your printer including the motors, user menu and extruder temperature. As time passes, manufacturers may learn of bugs in their firmware along with ways to improve performance. When they do, they issue firmware updates.
If your unit has built-in networking, you may be able to set it to periodically check for updates and then alert you when they are ready to install. If your 3D printer doesn’t have this option, you should make sure to regularly visit the manufacturer of your printer on the web to manually download the firmware to a USB device or SD card. Updating the firmware on a regular basis will improve the performance of your 3D printer and ensure it runs without any bugs.
Lubricated the Moving Parts of the Printer
Moving parts cause friction which, in turn, can cause both too much heat and premature wear. Always make sure that you keep the moving parts of your printer lubricated to extend their life and improve the printer’s performance.
For instance, you can use sewing machine oil to lubricate every bearing and rod in your printer. Of course, before applying any lubricant, check its labelling to verify that it will not damage the plastic.
Exercise care as you lubricate your printer. After all, applying oil to the wrong parts can induce operational problems and even contaminate your print jobs. Furthermore, too much lubricant can collect dust and dirt in ways that can damage your printer.
Keep the Filament Nozzle Clean
The nozzle on your 3D printer requires special care. With ordinary use, materials can stick to the inner and outer surfaces of the nozzle, resulting in clogs. In the event that you see quality problems in your outputs, you often can trace them to the nozzle.
Even small buildups of plastic on the extruder head can result in surprising defects in your print jobs, resulting in wasted time and material. Instead of letting nature take its course, take a proactive approach with the filament nozzle.
First, use tape and hand tools to remove the nozzle. Next, remove excess material with a razor blade. Finally, soak the nozzle in a jar of acetone to remove any remaining deposits. If possible, refer to your manual for more specific instructions.
Clean the Printer Regularly
As mentioned before, routine operation creates dust which accumulates on the various parts of your printer. For this reason, you should frequently clean your printer. Aside from simply dusting its surfaces, you should clean belts and pulleys, all the while looking for and clearing debris from their paths.
Give the Z screw a good wipe down to ensure its smooth operation and check all the components for excess lubricant. Finally, clean the print bed. Doing so will minimize the tendency of your finished products to stick and thereby reduce the chance for damage.
Store Your Filament Properly
As part of your maintenance program, make sure that you properly store the material that you use for printing. Filaments tend to collect moisture which can jeopardize the quality of your outputs. In other words, humidity is your enemy.
Although some printer owners go to great lengths to keep their filaments dry by either building or buying special dryers and containers, you can choose simpler methods to achieve the same result.
For instance, you should store all your filament spools in vacuum bags or plastic boxes with sealed lids that can be to keep them safe from humidity. Also, you should place a desiccant in the vacuum bags or a dehumidifier in the plastic boxes to keep your filaments dry.
In summary, you should follow good safety practices with your printer and in its surrounding areas to avoid personal injuries as well as damage to property. Meanwhile, a sensible maintenance schedule will complement your safety efforts while improving the quality of your printed objects and extending the life of your printer.
Now that you have learned all about the 3D printing process, you are ready to put your knowledge to use in ways that are both fun and profitable. The next chapter discusses 3D printing in business and how you can profit from the technology.
7. Using 3D Printing in Business
So far, this guide has introduced you to 3D printing, the history of the technology and has provided guidance for you as you acquired and learned to use your 3D printer. Along the way, you might have realized that this technology has tremendous business potential.
This chapter will guide you through an overview of 3D printing in business for the purpose of encouraging you to allow your 3D printer to develop new revenue streams and business opportunities.
As you read, keep an open mind and think of all the amazing ways your 3D printer can supply the needs of consumers and businesses. Also, if you spend some time planning you will give yourself a chance for unlimited success. Soon, you may join the many thriving business owners and entrepreneurs who have converted their 3D printer into a profit.
The Benefits of Using a 3D Printer for Business
3D printing technology has matured to the point of affordability. On the whole, buyers can get more for their money than they thought possible only a year or two ago. Small companies that once were left out of the 3D printing arena now can afford printers that have remarkable capabilities. Additionally, such printers now contribute to daily operations. In essence, the technology offers benefits that businesses simply cannot ignore.
Small companies, in particular, have much to gain by investing in 3D printers. Here are some of the way businesses can benefit in hopes of inspiring you to find ways to profitably use this exciting technology.
3D printing dramatically shortens both the time and money required to develop new products. In the past, the resources required to create a prototype limited the capabilities of even the largest corporations. Similarly, smaller companies felt compelled to outsource their prototyping to expensive third-party service providers.
Now, you can create your own prototypes from your designs and use them for testing and demonstration. As a result, you can get feedback from prospective investors and customers. Even better, when you make changes, you can quickly have an updated model in your hands.
Perhaps the most important benefit of prototyping is the ability to create usable items without any knowledge of advanced design principles. Thanks to software and 3D scanners, businesses can create advanced products without having a background in engineering or product design.
Creating Custom Products
Modern shoppers love having the ability to order products that meet their personal requirements. In the past, such customizations took a long time to produce and often were cost prohibitive because they often required the use of contractors.
Now, you can provide customers with samples and then quickly modify your designs to accommodate their desires. Best of all, such personalized attention involves practically no additional cost.
Such flexibility means that you can store designs for particular customers and print them on demand. As a result, you can develop long-term relationships based on your ability to deliver personalized products on demand.
Companies that create parts for maintenance and repair offer a great example of a custom products business. People who need parts for appliances and other mechanical devices can retain your services to print those items for them.
One example of a maintenance and repair business could be printing replacement parts for 3D printers. As can be seen, the opportunities for producing custom products are practically unlimited.
Promoting Your Business
Your access to additive manufacturing means that you can also create customized promotional products for your business. In other words, you no longer need to depend on run-of-the-mill promotional product firms. Instead, you can demonstrate your creativity and quality by distributing items that you have produced and decorated with your logo.
To put it another way, you can use your 3D printer to open new marketing channels while reducing the costs of your promotions. However, when you produce your own promotional goods, you put your competence on display. As you give away your items, you can proudly announce that you produced them and you can do the same thing for other companies.
You can get started by printing promotional 3D business cards that demonstrate how well you can use modern technology and then consider branching into other promotional items such as phone cases. When you produce your own promotional products, you demonstrate your innovative creativity along with your production capabilities.
The declining price tags of 3D printers have improved the cost-effectiveness of many different types of businesses. For the purpose of discussion, you can not only afford to buy a 3D printer but you also have the ability to affordably design and produce your own goods and services for sale.
Cost effectiveness also describes the way 3D printing can increase the capabilities of your business. You now have the means to design your own products and, in some cases, manufacture them. As a result, you can do more with fewer employees and fewer contractors. while delivering more to your customers.
For the most part, you can expect to realize substantial savings as a result of owning a 3D printer. Additionally, you gain an added level of flexibility because you no longer must deal with the high minimum order quantities that manufacturers routinely require for conventional production jobs.
When you hire a manufacturer to make your products, you often have to wait days, if not weeks before production can begin. When you have a 3D printer, however, you can accelerate the process by printing your own prototypes.
Sometimes, you can use an additive manufacturer to save time, but you still can wait for a week or longer before your outsourced work materializes. When you have an in-house 3D printer, all that can change.
When you control the product design process along with the means of production, you can slash red tape such as paperwork and you can begin work as soon as you have a go-ahead from your customers.
Starting a 3D Printing Business
3D printing gives you a chance to start your own business. If you already own or operate a business, you can develop new revenue streams. After all, 3D printing offers benefits for practically everyone.
Despite the relatively low cost of 3D printers, some companies and individuals have a limited need for such technology. Besides, unlike you, many people lack the will to learn how to succeed in the world of 3D printing. Instead, they would like to hire you to do the work.
Regardless of the reason for the demand, you have a chance to use disruptive 3D technology to free yourself and your business from the limitations of conventional manufacturers. Instead, you can quickly print custom goods and rapidly switch from one job to another.
3D printed objects by westonhighschool library licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Provide a 3D Printing Service
If you choose to start a 3D printing service, you should buy a printer with the greatest flexibility and best output quality for the amount of money you can spend. In the end, you want to have as much capacity as possible to meet the diverse needs of the market.
Since you intend to provide services to business customers and consumers, you must become proficient in the use of your equipment. Spend plenty of time learning and practicing before you open your business. To develop your skills, you should consider joining a 3D printing network such as 3D Hubs.
Although you might feel comfortable acting as part of a network, you might also want to develop the full-service side of the businesses where you can often earn a higher profit margin. If you do that, you might want to continue operating as part of the network so you can keep your printer busy during off-peak hours.
Create Unique Products
Your 3D printer gives you unlimited potential to innovate. You can choose to improve on existing products or create new ones from scratch. As a result, you have limitless opportunities to sell.
In addition to your own unique products, you can provide your customers with a chance to make their product ideas come to life. Of course, you should follow sound business and market practices to make sure you have a product that people will actually buy.
After launching a product, you will discover that the price per unit remains relatively constant, regardless of the number of items that you produce. That is to say that you can leverage your on-demand production capability to avoid tying up money in inventory.
Sell Your Own Designs
Another way to use 3D printing in business is to create and sell 3D designs. To do this, you will need to spend time with CAD software such as TinkerCad and Sketchup. When you become proficient at 3D design, you can begin creating for the purpose of resale.
3D printer owners who like your design can buy it and print it on their printer or via a 3D printer network. In any event, you might need to research your market to find out what customers want. Also, you probably should verify each of your designs by printing it yourself.
When you have a design ready to sell, you can upload it to online 3D marketplaces such as Shapeways. By choosing such a site, you gain access to a large audience of shoppers who want to browse and buy printable designs.
See What Others Are Doing
Before committing to a particular business model, find out how other businesses are using 3D printing. Use search engines and entrepreneur websites to find success stories to glean from can provide you with direction and help you avoid wasting time and money through trial-and-error.
In other words, learning from the experience can give you an advantage by helping you avoid failed strategies and embrace those that work. Visit online resources such as iMaterialise to learn how other people have succeeded in the 3D world.
For example, some companies have succeeded using a referral business model, like TinkerCAD. That company provides design tools and gives users an easy way to print without investing in a printer. Similarly, firms such as Twikit use a “white label” business model give users a chance to customize pre-existing designs which are printed and branded at the end of the production cycle.
After understanding how 3D printing has propelled others to success, follow their example, but add your own twist. Regardless of whether you decide to print shoes or handbags, use your imagination to make your business model unique and compelling.
Listen to Your Customers’ Feedback
As you use your 3D printer in business, pay close attention to the feedback you receive. Shoppers and customers can provide you with valuable feedback that you can use to improve your products and services and find new ways to bring value to the marketplace.
Additionally, when you positively respond to customer needs and expectations, you build a reputation for your brand that will inspire trust and loyalty. In that case, you and your printer can expect to have a long and profitable relationship.
Consider opening a design-and-print centre where you can consult with customers to help them create the 3D outputs that they want and need. This type of business surprises people with the speed, customizations and flexibility they can enjoy without investing in a printer of their own.
Generally speaking, if you build a niche business and address the needs of your B2B or consumer customers, you can expect to enjoy mutually beneficial relationships that supply value and generate healthy profits. Study the success of others and then create a unique business that satisfies the needs of your market. As you get experience, use feedback to make your products and services better.
3D printing technology gives small businesses and individuals fantastic business opportunities. Regardless of whether you choose to participate in a network, produce your own products or sell your original designs, you can find ways to deliver value and generate income.
Right now, you have amazing capabilities and opportunities for using your 3D printer in constructive ways. Still, you need to realize that even more possibilities lie ahead. In the next chapter, you will read about what the future of 3D printing looks like and what it means to you.
8. The Future of 3D Printing
As can be seen from the earlier chapters of this guide, 3D printing emerged from humble beginnings to take its place as a vital technology for business innovation. Although additive manufacturing in its current form still has untapped potential, you can expect to see exciting future developments.
Exciting new developments in the world of 3D printing show that the technology will affect an increasing number of industries and markets, resulting in dramatic improvements to the way people live and work. New materials, for example, will enable businesses and end users to print a larger variety of objects while propelling surprising developments in medicine and science.
If the past thirty years offer a hint of what people can accomplish with 3D printing, you probably cannot predict what will happen during the next decade. In this chapter, you will have a glimpse into the future. As you will see, many astounding developments have already emerged.
3d Printer! by chezshai licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Logistics continue to challenge businesses as they struggle to get the right goods to the right people at the right time. Meanwhile, expensive inventories continue to drain funds that could otherwise fuel growth.
3D printing will help streamline the global economy by placing on-demand production capabilities closer to customers and end users. As a result, supply chains will soon accomplish more by moving raw materials for printing rather than finished goods.
This way, companies can keep customers satisfied by printing needed products and spare parts they need while slashing their costs in terms of both time and money. In many settings such as construction, components can be produced on site, further speeding production.
Furthermore, additive manufacturing could dramatically change life outside of the business world. For example, remote populations will soon benefit from 3D-printed homes while the military will have the ability to create needed supplies close to the front lines rather than depending on traditional supply chains.
Consumers around the world will benefit from 3D printing beyond the realm of traditional commerce. After all, the low cost of printers and the growing choice of materials means that people can design and print their own goods, including spare parts and household items, at home.
A shift toward localized manufacturing could dramatically alter trade imbalances between nations and create entirely new industries and professions. Also, entrepreneurs with new 3D technologies in hand will develop an increasing variety of new products that could further revolutionize the way people live.
Custom Parts Replacement
Appliance repair services and do-it-yourselfers often need to spend days shopping for replacement parts and awaiting their arrival. Soon manufacturers may have 3D software models of their components available for download, speeding repair processes.
Also, as 3D scanners become commonplace, homeowners will soon have the ability to create custom replacement parts for obsolete items that no longer have parts available.
Mechanics will also benefit from their access to 3D printers. After all, they soon may have the ability to go online to download parts for practically any vehicle. As a result, car owners will be able to enjoy faster repairs and drive their cars longer than is currently possible.
Consequently, new businesses opportunities may develop where the owners of 3D printers can replace part wholesalers by offering the localized printing of replacement parts for all kinds of home-related appliances, machines and devices. As a result, 3D technology can extend the life of such devices resulting in financial savings that also contribute to environmental responsibility.
3D printing has already transformed the medical industry by enabling the direct production of custom body parts. In fact, researchers stunned the world back in 2010 when they used living cells taken from one patient to print blood vessels. Since then, bioprinting has steadily developed and now presents a transformative force in the health industry.
For the most part, organic printing is nascent, but researchers regular make new achievements that promise to contribute to the quality and longevity of patients around the world. For example, scientists have managed to print brain-like tissues that may soon treat brain injuries and Parkinson’s disease. The same bio-ink developed for that project will likely expand the medical use of 3D printing in coming years.
Meanwhile, people requiring organ transplants might soon get help from bioprinting technology. Already, scientists have made progress toward printing full-fledged organs from the cells of patients that can eliminate frustrating donor waiting lists while accelerating treatment.
So far, printed organs have been too small to be of practical use, but the concept offers real possibilities. For instance, scientists have been developing in vitro bio printing tactics that can create tissues and cells inside animals.
Eventually, the ability to print personalized cell tissue may soon reduce the rejection rates of transplanted organ and speed the recovery of transplant recipients. Furthermore, bioprinting will improve the medical treatment in other ways.
For example, one of the most appealing characteristics of cellular ink is its ability to replicate the properties of the host from which its starter cells were taken. This means that tissue can be generated for burn victims and other patients that require skin grafts.
Army invests in 3-D bioprinting to treat injured Soldiers by Army Medicine licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
In the light of the ability to print cellular materials, researchers may soon no longer need to use animals for laboratory tests. Similarly, the need for human test subjects during drug trials may soon become a thing of the past. Such changes will address ethical concerns raised in the cosmetic and medical industries and wherever scientists need to test products and procedures on live hosts.
Cosmetic giant L’Oreal recently turned heads when the firm announced it would stop testing its products on animals. As other companies follow suit, what will they use for laboratory tests? Most likely, 3D-printed living cells. Such tissue provides an identical match for skin but doesn’t carry with it the emotional and ethical baggage associated with animal tests.
Of course, some fans of bioprinting technology expect the technology to directly impact life expectancy. In fact, new replacement organs and tissues may even have 4D capabilities that can automatically regenerate. As a result, the technology may extend by decades the typical lifespan of humans.
An entirely new class of printers has emerged that adds an additional dimension to 3D printouts. Printouts that change as a result of time, temperature and moisture will soon become mainstream and offer new possibilities for medicine and science.
In a word, 4D printing is merely an enhancement of 3D printing that uses special materials that enable outputs to change their shape after being printed. As a result, objects can respond to environmental factors such as temperature and time. To put it differently, unlike the static objects printed with typical 3D printers, items printed with 4D can change after they leave the production environment.
The production of dynamic 3D objects has been pioneered by the Self-Assembly Lab at MIT along with printer manufacturers such as Stratasys. Autodesk and other 3D software companies are also contributing to the effort. Despite the fact that 4D printing has become a reality in the R&D world, you shouldn’t expect to find a 4D printer at the same store that sold you your 3D printer.
Applications for 4D printing include some innovative ideas that you have probably never before considered. For example, 4D-printed home furnishings can ship to customers in a compact form. However, after being unwrapped at their destination, these products will morph into tables, chairs and other furniture.
In the past, such capabilities were in the realm of science fiction. However, when Zhen Ding produced a flower that closes its petals and morphs by contracting and elongating itself, the world realized that the future of this technology holds tremendous promise.
In fact, researchers have already demonstrated cases where 4D-produced items can assemble themselves. Such objects can also adapt to their environments and offer impressive potential to revolutionize space travel and exploration.
In the medical sphere, researchers see the potential for printing heart stents that activate with temperature. Additionally, pharmacological firms are developing pills that can change with time and environmental factors. As a result, you can expect medicines to precisely target the needs of patients while reducing the problem of overmedication.
So far 4D technology has a limitation because once it changes, it remains static. However, in the future, materials will exist that can produce objects that can change in real time and react to multiple environmental cycles. As these capabilities develop, new opportunities to use them will likely emerge.
In summary, the excitement of 3D printing shows no bounds. Already, 3D printing has given you amazing opportunities for your business and personal life. Additionally, practically every industry and people from every walk of life have already been impacted by this technology.
Future developments will bring 3D printing to the forefront as the technology addresses the limitations of the global economy while improving the quality of life for people around the world. Meanwhile, the advent of 4D technology promises to revolutionize medical treatments and bioprinting will bring even more possibilities.
Rarely has a single technology brought as much opportunity to the world as does 3D printing. In fact, businesses in practically every industry operating in every corner of the globe have created new and improved products and services that add value and opportunity to B2B customers and consumers. As a result, people everywhere live better lives.
This guide has introduced you to additive manufacturing from its humble beginnings in Japan and showed you how a delayed patent application may have changed history. From there, a crowd of pioneering entrepreneurs and their new ventures found ways to make the technology practical and profitable.
Although many of the early players in the industry no longer exist, their legacy continues through those that remain and the many new ventures that continue moving the industry forward. During the past few decades, the cost of 3D printing has dramatically decreased while the capabilities of the technology have increased.
As new materials that have the density and strength needed for mission-critical components in the aerospace and automotive industries, 3D technology also is forcing changes in other manufacturing settings. Products that once required large batches and long runs can now economically be produced in small quantities in small spaces.
3D Printer by Stephan Ridgway licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Meanwhile, science and medicine have harnessed 3D printing technology to create custom bones, joints and teeth for patients. In the future, 3D bioprinting may accelerate and improve skin grafts and eliminate the need for live organ donors and waiting lists. Additionally, fourth dimensions such as time and heat may soon change everything from heart stents to space exploration.
Of course, the ways that 3D printing affects you right now might captivate your attention more than the history and future of the technology. Reading this guide has equipped you with all you need to get started. You received guidance for choosing the type of printer and balancing price with features to get the printer that best fits your needs.
Like any production process, you need to have the right tools available to finish the job and follow the safety and maintenance procedures that will ensure that you and the people that share your space can enjoy the 3D-printing experience. After getting started, you might have felt an inner desire to do more.
While the impressive capabilities of a 3D printer can change the way you live and work, they also give you ways to either start a new business or augmenting an existing company with new products and services. In fact, an entire chapter of this guide explored the various uses of 3D printing in businesses.
Simply by connecting your printer to a cloud-based network, you can get paid to print objects for other people and businesses. Moreover, 3D design software and 3D scanners can help you create a business that designs and produces products to sell. Ultimately, you have almost unlimited opportunities for earning money with your printer.
Now that you have completed your journey through this guide, you can begin a new trek into the exciting world of 3D printing as you build your business and reach for the stars.