The word, “Printing” is traditionally used to describe a technique in which a certain quantity of coloring agents is pressed onto a specified surface to form a body of text or an illustration. With its first appearance in China before 220 AD for cloth printing, printing has become a necessity to be used in everyday life. And as the world is rapidly moving towards technological advancements, printing has also gone through several transformations since its birth.
Now, we are all set to see a new facet of this process with the invention of 3-D printing, which has been promptly making its name within the printing industry.
We can understand this new process by dividing the word into 3D + Printing, meaning a process of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file.
For better understanding, 3D Printing is a manufacturing process in which material is laid down, layer by layer, to form a three-dimensional object.
Let’s take a look at what makes 3D Printing the talk of the town and the next big revolution of the printing industry.
Exploring 3D Printing
Understanding the main concept of 3D Printing and the technique behind it, we can define 3D Printing, in technical terms, as a process for making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, normally by laying down many successive thin layers of material. This brings a digital object into its physical form by adding layer by layer of materials.
3D Printing, also called Additive Manufacturing (AM), has many limitations to traditional manufacturing, based mainly on human labor and made by hand ideology rooting back to the ancient times.
But, the world of manufacturing has changed, and automated processes such as machining, casting, forming and molding are all-new, complex processes that require machines, computers and robot technology.
Moving now to the current scenario of the market, 3D printing has now come up as an enabling technology that encourages and drives innovation with unprecedented design freedom while being a tool-less process reducing prohibitive costs and lead times.
Components can be fashioned specifically to avoid assembly requirements with intricate geometry and complex features created at no extra cost. 3D printing is also stepping up as an emerging energy-efficient technology that can provide environmental efficiencies in terms of both the manufacturing process itself, utilizing up to 90% of standard materials, and throughout the products operating life, through lighter and stronger design.
How does it work?
Every company employs a different type of 3D printer technology to process different materials in different ways. We have to take note that one of the most basic limitations of 3D printing, in terms of materials and applications, is that no one solution fits all. For example, some 3D printers might process powdered materials, which utilize a light/heat source to sinter/melt/fuse layers of the powder together in the defined shape. Other processes may include polymer resin materials and will utilize a light/laser to solidify the resin in ultra-thin layers.
The most common and easily recognized process is deposition, and this is the process employed by the majority of 3D printers. This process extrudes plastics, commonly PLA or ABS, in filament form through a heated extruder to form layers and create a predetermined shape.
However, there are continuous updates and upgrades of software for these functions and the situation is improving. Also, the printer is off, many parts will need to undergo finishing operations.
Perks of 3D Printing
3D printing brings a host of benefits that traditional methods of manufacture simply cannot provide. They include:
Customization: 3D printing allows us the facility for mass customization. Even within the same build chamber, the nature of 3D printing means that numerous products can be manufactured at the same time according to the end-users requirements at no additional process cost.
Complexity: 3D Printing provides levels of complexity that simply could not be produced physically in any other way. Though this advantage has been taken up by designers and artists to impressive visual effects, it has also made a significant impact on industrial applications.
Sustainable: 3D printing, is emerging as an energy-efficient technology, utilize up to 90% of standard materials, and, therefore, creating less waste making a lighter and stronger design that has a reduced carbon footprint as compared to traditionally manufactured products.
Companies Dealing with 3D Printers
Materialize: Being a Belgium-based company that prides itself on focusing on software and services in the 3D printing industry, it has a portfolio of over 95 patents and 165 more pending. The company has allied with HP on its Jet Fusion 3D 4200 technology, as well as to make customized 3D printed shoe insoles as part of HP’s FitStation software.
Proto Labs: Founded in 1999, Proto Labs specializes in rapid prototyping using three additive processes that are stereolithography, selective laser sintering and direct metal laser sintering. Besides, its additive manufacturing technology produces plastic parts using its 3D carbon digital light synthesis printing methods.
3D Systems: 3D Systems has been providing 3D products and services since 1983. This includes 3D printers and print materials along with parts services and digital design tools. 3D Systems also covers several industries with its products, such as manufacturing, design and engineering, 3D scanning and healthcare.
Stratasys: Stratasys, being in the 3D printing business since 1988, operates mainly in the healthcare, aerospace, automotive and education markets. Globally, the company holds over 600 granted or pending additive manufacturing patents.