3D printing has revolutionized design as we know it. What was once seen as an expensive, clunky portion of digital media is now an easy to use and accessible medium that everyone from NASA to costume makers use. These remarkable machines can produce different kinds of objects, in different materials, all from one machine. Let’s take a look at what these printing machines can do for you and your business.
How do 3D Printers Work?
A typical 3D printer is similar to an inkjet printer. It operates from a computer using software that either implements an already created design, or allows you to create one from the ground up. The printer builds the 3D model one layer at a time (starting from the bottom) by printing on the same area over and over again in a method called FDM (fused deposited modeling). The printer can automatically take hours to turn a two-dimensional drawing into a three-dimensional product you can hold and touch. Instead of ink, the printer deposits layers of molten powder or plastic and fuses them together with UV light or adhesive.
3D Printing and Accessibility
Similar to printing companies in the past, a 3D print service makes it easier to create and draft designs for their customers. Ever since the advent of Microsoft’s Kinect, a 3D scanning device that allowed you to control games with a hand wave, we’ve seen the technology become cheaper. Many decent 3-D printers cost $2000 or less, although these printers are still crippled by time. Most physical objects take at least an hour to print (if small) and 6 hours or more if they cover the height and width of the printer. For mass printing, it’s better to give your design to a 3D printing service where more than one printer can create multiple objects at once.
Advantages of 3D Printing
Although 6 hours sounds like a long time, it’s short compared to creating a fully developed product in the past. Before 3D printing, it would take weeks to build a prototype, then months in perfecting and tweaking the design, then at least a year to put the product to market. Shortened product time means slashed costs. A 3D printing machine requires less labor, less waste, and less material than prototyping in the past.
What 3D printing excels at is its flexibility, quality, and consistency. Once you implement your design and turn the printer on, you don’t need any more input. However, if you do want to change the design, you can do so on the computer. Quality remains consistent, as the printer takes from the design you implemented and attempts to remove human error. Finally, since it’s less likely the printer will produce a lower quality item, the design remains consistent despite multiple prototype models.
The only limit is your imagination when it comes to 3D printing. The 3D printer was invented only 25 years ago, so it’s application and range of scope is yet to be discovered. Still, 3D printing has found a foothold in many industries, such as medicine, where doctors use human tissue to create real human organs, prosthetics, and skin. For example, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital uses 3D-printed replicas of children’s hearts to practice surgery on, and other hospitals have printed other organs, such as the brain or kidney, for educational purposes.
In aerospace and defense, 3D-printing is used to create and test the over 2.3 million components of a Boeing Dreamliner, as well as other airplane parts that require extensive research and testing. Spacecrafts are even more complicated, with many of the elements being one-offs or too complicated to make with human hands. For these parts, it’s easier and more cost-effective to print them. Astronauts have also used 3D-printing technology in space to replace lost or broken parts. Even the latest NASA Rover uses 3D-printed parts!