No matter how many times print has been reinvented, it continues to teach us new things about the world around us and, ultimately, ourselves. At Documedia Group, we are always interested in all forms of and advancements to printing as a printing company, and that includes 3D printing. In fact, we are so interested in the printing world that, even though we have already talked about 3D printing in the past in our article called “The Print of Tomorrow, Today,” we are eager to revisit this topic!
In this blog, our goal is to understand how 3D printing works present-day including any adjustments that have happened to the niche since we published our article on 3D print over four years ago, what 3D printing is commonly used for, and some benefits of 3D printing. For extra entertainment, we will also consider some cool 3D printed things because, well, everyone likes to look at cool things. To start things off, though, let us consider the history of 3D printing.
Board the paper plane…we’re taking a quick trip down memory lane of printing.
The general world of printing started with the Gutenberg Press in 1440 and look what we’ve since achieved! It has already changed the way objects are produced — from clothes and toys to complex items like airplane machinery and car parts. This new method of manufacturing is saving money and time. But how did 3D printing begin?
The earliest record of 3D printing through the additive process was the Japanese inventor Hideo Kodama in 1981. As its name implies, additive manufacturing adds material to create an object. Kodama created a product that used ultraviolet lights to harden polymers and create solid objects. This is a stepping stone to stereolithography (SLA) invested by Charles Hull.
Hull invented stereolithography, a process similar to 3D printing that uses technology to create smaller versions of objects so they can be tested before spending time and money on creating the actual product. The object is printed layer by layer, rinsed with a solvent, and hardened with ultraviolet light. The process uses computer-aided designs (CAD) to create 3D models.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the most common form of 3D printing today. The technology behind FDM was invented in the 1980s by Scott Crump, co-founder of Stratasys Ltd., a leading manufacturer of 3D printers. To form an object, the printer heats a cable of thermoplastic into liquid form and extrudes it layer by layer.
How does 3D printing work and what do people typically print with 3D technology?
Now that we have a better understanding of how 3D printing came to be, how exactly does it work? Well, if you have a new product that needs to be shown to clients, having a model to display is essential. This is because people want to invest in products that they have already touched, held, and felt. But constructing a model by hand could be time-consuming and prototype-making machines are expensive. That’s where 3D printing comes in. 3D printing works by building up 3D models layer by layer at up to 10 times the speed and a fifth the cost.
A typical 3D printer builds up a 3D model one layer at a time, from the bottom upward, by repeatedly printing over the same area using the FDM form of printing we talked about earlier (hey, Scott!). Working entirely automatically, the printer creates a model over a period of hours by turning a 3D computer-aided design drawing into many two-dimensional, cross-sectional layers — effectively, it is sitting separate 2D prints on top of one another, but without the paper in between.
Instead of using ink, which would never build the necessary amount of volume needed to create a 3D object, the printer deposits layers of molten plastic or powder and fuses them together (and to the existing structure) with adhesive or ultraviolet light. In more detail, a 3D printer extrudes molten plastic through a tiny nozzle that moves around precisely under computer control. It prints one layer, waits for it to dry, and then prints the next layer on top.
3D printers use thermoplastics or plastics that melt when you heat them and turn solid when you cool them back down. ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is typically the type of plastic used for 3D printing because it is a composite of the hard, tough plastic (acrylonitrile) and the synthetic rubber (butadiene styrene).
This plastic combination is ideal for 3D printing because of the fact that it is a solid at room temperatures and melts at a little over 100°C (220°F), just cool enough to melt inside the printer without too much heat and hot enough that models printed from it won’t melt if it is left in the sun. However, you don’t necessarily need to print in 3D with plastic. You can print objects using any molten material that hardens and sets reasonably quickly. And when it comes to what you can print, 3D printing is versatile.
In theory, the only limit is your imagination. In practice, the limits are the accuracy of the model from which you print, the precision of your printer, and the materials you print with. 3D printing has been utilized in medicine, aerospace and defense, visualization, personalized products, and more. In fact, our last article talked about how a team of researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University created 3D printed structures and objects with graphene inks with their greatest achievement at that time being the battery. We also talked about how the medical industry implemented 3D printing technology and create the first 3D printed pelvis in South Korea for a doctor who needed to remove a bone cancer tumor in a patient but felt the traditional method was too risky.
It is heartening to see that life-saving technological advancements are not only being explored but are also being made possible by means of print!
Are there any advantages or disadvantages when it comes to 3D printing?
Like anything in life, 3D printing has its pros and cons. Today, we’ll be focusing on the benefits of 3D printing. We have already briefly mentioned how 3D printing removes the time-consuming aspect of constructing a model by hand and the expenses that come with prototype-making machines. But, wait, there is actually more where that came from!
Other benefits that 3D printing offers are:
- The freedom to design whatever you want whenever you want. Often, complex geometry cannot be made with traditional methods because some areas may be impossible to machine or be able to be removed from a mold.
- Lightweight but durable! The primary material used by 3D printing is plastic. This might have inferiority when compared to steel and aluminum, but using plastic in place of metal has great advantages. These plastics are much lighter than their metal counterparts. This is ideal for automobile manufacturers, which can substitute metal for plastic and thus making the cars lighter while providing the same ideal results.
- Less waste. As opposed to machining which cuts away large chunks of non-recyclable material to produce the part, 3D printing produces much less waste because only the material needed to produce the part is used. This reduces the material cost of production because you are only paying for the material that you need.
- Space saver. Inventory can take up a lot of space, especially if you’re not using the part as often as intended. You avoid an overstocked and costly inventory because 3D printing designs are housed as CAD and STL files. This means you can essentially keep a virtual library of all your parts and print them only when you need them and in the exact volume that you need. Rather than producing in bulk, 3D printing frees up inventory space.
What are some cool 3D prints we have come across? We are paying homage to three pieces of 3D printed art by artists who are seamlessly merging the 3D print scene with the art world.
Architecture lovers and interior designers, the first piece of 3D printed art we are looking at is called KOMINAL, which is a literal blob. But it’s quite a gnarly looking blob if you ask us. By using FDM 3D print, Nick Ervinck has created a unique ceiling ornament that fades from white to a bright yellow. It “brings into question the opposition between the conventional architectural space (box) and the virtual design (blob),” per his online portfolio.
With this next piece, whether you did well in geometry and arithmetics or not, this 3D printed lounger chair is bound to increase your appreciation for shapes. Created by 3D print artists Janne Kyttanen, this lounger “represents the perfect marriage of form and function. The chair’s optimized design is only one example of how 3D printing can reduce material usage, create lighter-weight components, and free designers to create whatever they can imagine.” Check out more of Kyttanen’s 3D printed work on his website.
In this final shoutout, historians and archeologists are in for a wonderful ride. Artist Amy Karle collaborates with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History to create a 3D scan of a 66-million-year-old Triceratops. Sculpted in silver, gold, and a flesh-pink color, this series of sculptures highlight body form and function.
We still are convinced that invention isn’t dead, and 3D printing is proof of that.
Though Documedia Group might not offer 3D printing services, we could print a handful of items via our printing services. If you are located in the Inland Empire, check us out! We print apparel (so your team could have matching attire during team outings), books (for when you want to read…or pretend like you are reading), calendars (because it is always nice to have a tangible reminder of what day it is), coupons (did someone say Fourth of July discounts?), and more! Contact us to understand what printing solutions we have available for you and your business!