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What is 3D Printing?

3D printing is the process of building thin layers of 3D printing material, also known as a filament, to create a physical object. The object is designed as a three-dimensional model with specific measurements using 3D printing software. 3D printing is an efficient process that builds up custom objects while lowering production and manufacturing costs. Some applications of 3D printing include manufacturing, prototyping, and medicine.


What is Additive Manufacturing? Is Additive Manufacturing the Same as 3D Printing?

Additive Manufacturing is a manufacturing process of adding materials together to produce a 3D object.Since materials are added together to create an object, it is less wasteful than other manufacturing processes. While 3D printing is an example of additive manufacturing, the terms are used interchangeably since both terms refers to a process that builds up a product.


How Does 3D Printing Work?

First, a model of the object is designed to create a 3D printing file. This file is stored and which is eventually transferred to a 3D printer using 3D printing software. The 3D printer reads the design and begins to print thin layers of material to create the object. During the 3D printing process, the 3D printer remains paired with the 3D modeling software on a computer to direct and monitor the 3D printing process.

A brief guide to how 3D printing works is:

1. Use 3D modeling software to design a 3D model of the object

2. Use 3D printing software to slice the model into sections so the 3D printer knows how much 3D printing material is needed

3. Print

4. Post-processing (sanding, coloring, polishing, etc)


How to Design Parts for 3D Printing?

Designing parts for 3D printing requires 3D modeling software and 3D printing software.

3D modeling software is where the design of an object with its exact dimensions is created. An example of 3D modeling software is CAD (Computer Aided Design). Then the design needs to be formatted by 3D printing software to be read by a 3D printer. A popular file type used for formatting is STL (standard tessellation language).


Who Uses 3D Printing?

3D printing can be applied in a range of industries, with its most crucial role in manufacturing and prototyping, medicine, and education.

Manufacturing and prototyping is the field where 3D printing stands out the most. Businesses can create 3D printed parts in a fraction of the time and cost of traditional manufacturing and prototyping methods.

3D printing in medicine has a variety of applications such as 3D printed prosthetics and 3D printed models of organs. 3D printed prosthetics are cheaper to produce and can be custom fitted to the wearer. 3D printed models of organs allow surgeons to practice complicated surgeries before performing the surgery on a patient.

Education benefits from 3D printing in a slightly different manner. Rather than focusing on producing 3D printed parts, 3D printing gives students the opportunity to practice planning, modeling, and engineering skills.


What Can 3D Printing be used for?

One of the most effective uses for 3D printing across different industries is manufacturing and prototyping. Within manufacturing and prototyping, 3D printing is adopted in mass customization, rapid prototyping, and local manufacturing.

Mass customization refers to two different types of production. Mass production refers to creating a large quantity of a single object. Customization refers to the production of unique objects. Usually, mass production and custom production do not overlap, because custom production creates one object at a time. In some instances, these two forms of production overlap, and very few technologies can accommodate both. However, 3D printed products and components are highly customizable. 3D printing’s customization capability gives businesses the flexibility to design the exact parts and components that are needed and produce them in mass. So 3D printing is a solution for any project requiring mass customization.

Rapid prototyping is when a part is produced at a faster rate than the traditional manufacturing process. 3D printing is a method of achieving rapid prototyping because it has a quick completion time. Since rapid prototyping uses 3D printing, rapid prototyping also heavily relies on 3D modeling software, such as computer-aided design (CAD).

Businesses that require 3D printing have a 3D printer in-house for local manufacturing purposes. Businesses with an in-house 3D printer can produce necessary parts on demand.


What Are the Benefits of 3D Printing?

In short, 3D printing benefits businesses producing objects in complex shapes at a lower production cost and time compared to traditional manufacturing methods. 3D printing achieves this in a variety of ways.

For starters, since 3D printing creates objects by building thin layers of material, the process itself has less material waste. Less material waste leads to lower material costs.

3D printing is a process that functions with little to no manual labor. A production phase that utilizes less manual labor minimizes the need for tool production. Less manual labor and tool production lowers the cost, lead time, and labor of the production phase.

Since an industrial 3D printer creates customizable parts efficiently and cost-effectively, it can produce any type of necessary manufacturing piece at a lower cost. In situations where the supplier of a specific part is no longer in business or if the part is too expensive to produce, 3D printing can create that piece at a lower cost.

Finally, 3D printing is a faster process than traditional manufacturing or prototyping methods. It can create a part or component within hours or days (depending on the complexity of the design), while traditional manufacturing methods may require months for the same part. A faster manufacturing and prototyping period leads to a faster market release compared to a business’ competitors with less investment in time, production cost, and staff labor.