3D printing is the additive manufacturing process of creating physical objects from digital files, usually out of plastic. While the origins for 3D printing started in 1983 when Chuck Hull created the first stereolithography 3D printer, it’s usually considered a fairly new manufacturing method. 3D printing comes in a lot of flavors, but the one we’ll be focusing on today is Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), also known as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF).
FDM printing is the process of feeding a coil of hard filament into a heated nozzle, which melts the filament and extrudes thin layers of plastic onto a build plate. The build plate is lowered and the next layer of plastic is added on top of the hardened layer. This process continues until the entire model is printed.
Other 3D printing methods include stereolithography (SLA) printing, which uses an ultraviolet sensitive resin and a high powered laser to hard resin onto a build plate, which slowly raises out of the resin. Another method is selective layer sintering (SLS) printing, which uses a high powered laser to melt a powder into shapes, then another layer of powder is added and then melted again. All of these different methods have their pro’s and con’s, but the most popular and widely available 3D printing is FDM printing.
In order to tell the 3D printer where to print, first a 3D model is analyzed by a program called a Slicer. Popular slicing softwares include Cura, Simplify3D, CraftWare, and more. The slicer analyzes the model and slices it into thin layers. Each of those layers acts as a blueprint for the 3D printing. Other settings, such as resolution, temperature, speed, and infill can all be adjusted in the slicer.
Once the sliced model is sent to the 3D printer, the next step is to choose what material to print in. The most popular materials used are Polylactic Acid (PLA) and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). PLA is a low-temperature biodegradable plastic, and ABS is the same plastic used in LEGO. There are plenty of other materials as well, such as flexible TPU filaments and exotic wood or steel filaments, but these are the most commonly used.
Curious as what my personal experience and thoughts on 3D printing? Check out My 3D Printing.