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All of us have seen countless three-dimensional objects in proper length, width and height carved to perfection for different purposes, sometimes a model for a university project or an assembly part for an automobile or maybe in the form of sophisticated medical equipment. Today we will be discussing 3D printing to find out, how the process is carried out? the materials it can imply, the methods used in 3D printing, and lastly its pros and cons.

Definition of 3D Printing

First things first, let's define 3D printing;

" Conversion of a 3D dimensional CAD model into a physical three-dimensional object through a complex step by step process is called 3D printing."

3D Printing Process

  • The term 3D printing was introduced by David E.H jones in 1974 in his renowned column Ariadne, before this the technique was being used by some individuals but it wasn't famous and known to many.
  • 3D printing is also called additive manufacturing because of the addition of different layers of materials gradually over one another to produce a single 3D object.

Materials Used in 3D Printing

Different materials are used for 3D Printing according to the need and financial constraints of the project such as resins, wood, metal, glass, composites, and ceramics.

Types of materials used in 3D printing

Step By Step Process of 3D Printing

3D printing implies a fairly easy and simple process, let's break it down into a few steps for your convenience.

  • When you are about to manufacture a product or make a model for something you want to construct, what do you do initially? You make a rough draft and then start putting the design in your head on paper, canvas, or a designing software which can be DesignSparks Mechanical, AutoCAD, Solid Works, Blender, or the one you know the best! This is the first and foremost step of 3D printing. We make a computer-aided 3 dimensional model of the product.
  • The second step involves the conversion of the 3D design model into STL file format, it is a necessary prerequisite to translate our digital design into a format that is better understood by our 3D printer.
  • After translation of the digital file into STL file format, the 3D slicer comes into play and slices the digital design into layers. For this purpose, there are many available options in the market to choose from.
  • The last step in 3D printing is Layering, this process involves the step-by-step deposition of the chosen material in the form of layers to make a 3D product. Sometimes after the formation of layers a little bit of post-processing is also required to clean out the excess material and sharpen the edges of the end product, and voila! We are done! 

Methods and Techniques used in 3D Printing

Now you must be thinking about the methods used in the process of 3D printing, there are a lot of methods which have been used to date, some of them are old meanwhile, some are newer and more advanced but costly as well, we choose the one which suits us the best. Some of the methods used in 3D printing are being listed below;

  • Selective Laser Sintering SLS
  • Digital Light Processing DLP
  • PolyJet Fusion
  • Direct Metal Laser Sintering
  • Electron Beam Melting
  • Laser sintering
  • Stereolithography SLA
  • Multi Jet Fusion MJF

Methods and Techniques used in 3D Printing

Pros and Cons of 3D printing

Every process which has been known so far carries its benefits and drawbacks, the same is the case with our 3D printing process. We will be discussing some of the pros and cons of this process in the next section.

Pros of 3D printing

  • 3D printing produces less waste as compared to the subtractive manufacturing we used to do in the past, everyone wants to save the earth?
  • The process of 3D printing is fast-paced, from the design process to product manufacturing, it takes only days and weeks, as compared to the past in which design and production took years.
  •  3D printing is cost-effective, you can even manufacture a single assembly part that is damaged, this wasn't possible in the past! , you can opt for mass production as well, on a much lesser budget as compared to the costly machining process.
  • 3D printing provides the opportunity of manufacturing more complicated designs in terms of products and assembly parts at a lesser cost.
  • On-demand production is a new concept introduced by the courtesy of the 3D printing process, before going into mass production you can test your design if it works in the market or not! Or you can launch a limited number of pieces related to a new theme or series whenever you want, without the fear of investing and losing a large amount of money!
  • Rapid prototyping found its feet on the ground of production due to 3D printing, otherwise, it wouldn't have been possible.

Cons of 3D printing

  • Despite providing a broader design window to its users, 3D printed objects are sometimes fragile due to unsuitable material selection for the end product. Limited materials are available for the process which have proven themselves to be excellent for production.
  • Complex designs can be made in CAD and others but all the design specifications may not be achieved, there's a difference between the 3D world and the actual world.
  • Post-processing is an undesired part of the job, it takes time and extra effort.
  • Recent researches have proven that the modern techniques of 3D printing consume much more electricity than the traditional methods of production, so, 3D printing is only suitable for small batches of production. 
  • Toxic emissions have also been observed from the 3D printers, the emissions include volatile organic compound and many cancer-causing particles which settle in the bloodstream and lungs, causing serious health issues.
  • 3Dprinters are quite expensive as they are smart devices designed with microcontrollers/ microprocessors.

Applications of 3D printing

This is the last segment of our discussion on 3D printing, we are about to discuss its applications which are countless in number, some of them are listed below,

  • 3D printing can be implemented in the production of artificial limbs, teeth and bones, medical instruments and hospital-grade medical equipment.

Diagram showing where 3D printing can be used in medical applications

  • Agile tooling is one of the areas of 3D printing, which helps in the manufacturing of dies, moulds, jigs and patterns for tool production at a fast pace.
  • The automotive industry also uses 3D printing for the production of assembly parts.
  • 3D printing is used in the apparel and fashion industry for the production of limited edition jewellery and clothing pieces.
  • Research and development have also implied 3D printing in the manufacturing of end products for trial and error.

This was all about 3D printing, I hope you have learned something new today. It was only a brief overview of the topic, otherwise 3D printing is a very broad subject itself. For any suggestions and queries, you can use the comment section.

HI, I am a student of Electrical Engineering. I am currently working for an electronic store. I work at the electrical components there. I am learning many useful practical concepts there. On the other hand, I give online tuitions to some students of high school I love electrical and electronics devices and have a plan to have a Master's Degree in Electronics.
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