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FDM, FFF, SLA, DLP, SLS, DMLS, LOM, Print-jet, Polyjet, Multi-jet Fusion, CLIP etc. are the trade names of 3d printing technology. They vary from its materials and process of the build-up parts. 3d printing formerly known as rapid prototyping is to make quick prototypes. In todays world, it is no longer limited to just prototyping but also making personal DIY projects, produce useable parts, fixing broken stuffs, making teaching fun and tangible, customizing decoration which basically anything you can think of. This makes everyone accessible when beefy industrial 3d printers has shrink down into desktop sizes by utilizing open source FFF technology.

What is 3D Printing?

An additive manufacturing process that creates a physical object from a digital design. There are different 3D printing technologies and materials you can print with, but all are based on the same principle: a digital model is turned into a solid three-dimensional physical object by adding material layer by layer.

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How does 3D printing work?

Every 3D print starts as a digital 3D design file – like a blueprint – for a physical object. Trying to print without a design file is like trying to print a document on a sheet of paper without a text file. This design file is sliced into thin layers which is then sent to the 3D printer. 

From here on the printing process varies by technology, starting from desktop printers that melt a plastic material and lay it down onto a print platform to large industrial machines that use a laser to selectively melt metal powder at high temperatures. The printing can take hours to complete depending on the size, and the printed objects are often post-processed to reach the desired finish.

Available materials also vary by printer type, ranging from plastics to rubber, sandstone, metals and alloys - with more and more materials appearing on the market every year.

PROS: Create Complex Designs

3D printing lets designers create complex shapes and parts – many of which cannot be produced by conventional manufacturing methods. By the natural laws of physics, manufacturing through additive methods means that complexity doesn’t have a price; elaborate product designs with complicated design features now cost just as much to produce as simple product designs that follow all the traditional rules of conventional manufacturing.

PROS: Customize each and every item

Have you ever wondered why we purchase our clothing in standardized sizes? With traditional production methods, it’s simply cheaper to make and sell products at an affordable price to the consumer. Alternatively, 3D printing allows for easy customization; one only needs to change the design digitally to make changes with no additional tooling or other expensive manufacturing process required to produce the final product. The result? Each and every item can be customized to meet a user’s specific needs without additional manufacturing costs.

PROS: No need for tools and molds, lower fix costs

When metal casting or injection molding, each part of each product requires a new mold – a factor that can balloon manufacturing costs very quickly. To recoup these upfront manufacturing costs, most companies rely on thousands of the same item being sold. Alternatively, since 3D printing is a “single tool” process there is no need to change any aspect of the process and no additional costs or lead times are required between making an object complex or simple. Ultimately, this leads to substantially lower fixed costs.

PROS: Printing with ease, fast, & less risky route to market

Since there is no expensive tooling required to create objects through 3D printing, it is particularly a cost effective method for designers or entrepreneurs who are looking to do market testing or small production runs – or even launch their products through crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter. At this stage, it is also easy for design changes to be made without compromising more formal – and expensive – manufacturing orders. Thus, 3D printing offers a much less risky route to market for those who are looking into manufacturing a product idea.

PROS: Less waste

Many conventional manufacturing processes are subtractive: you start with a block of material, cut it, machine it, and mill it until it has been processed as your intended design. For many products – such as a bracket for an airplane – it’s normal to lose 90% of the raw material during this process.

Alternatively, 3D printing is an additive process; you create an object from the raw material layer by layer. Naturally, when an object is manufactured this way, it only uses as much material that is needed to create that particular object. Additionally, most of these materials can be recycled and repurposed into more 3D printed objects.

CONS: Higher cost for large production runs

espite all of the benefits of manufacturing through additive methods, 3D printing is not yet competitive with conventional manufacturing processes when it comes to large production runs. In most cases, this turning point is between 1,000 to 10,000 units, depending on the material and the design. As the price of printers and raw materials continue to decrease, however, the range of efficient production is expected to increase further.

CONS: Less material choices, colors & finishings

Despite there being more than six-hundred 3D printing materials available today – most of which are plastics and metals – the choices are still limited compared to conventional product materials, colors and finishes. However, this field is rapidly catching up, the number of new materials added to the 3D printing palette is growing rapidly every year including wood, metals, composites, ceramics, and even chocolate.

CONS: Limited strength and endurance

In some 3D printing technologies the part strength is not uniform due to the layer-by-layer fabrication process. As such, parts that have been 3D printed are often weaker than their traditionally manufactured counterparts. Repeatability is also in need of improvement as well; parts made on different machines might have slightly varying properties. However, as technical improvements continue to be made on new continuous 3D printing processes like Carbon3D, these limits will likely to vanish in the near future.

CONS: Lower precision

Although we may not be able to 3D print objects that have cutting edge tolerances like an iPhone, 3D printing is still a very capable method of creating objects at a precision of around 20-100 microns – or about the height of a single sheet of paper. For users who are creating objects with few tolerances and design details, 3D printing offers a great way for making products real. For objects requiring more working parts and finer details – such as the silent switch on the iPhone – it’s difficult to compete with the high precision capabilities of certain manufacturing processes.

PRO vs cons

It’s crucial to understand that 3D printing is a rapidly developing technology, which comes with its set of inherent benefits, but also lags behind traditional manufacturing processes in some aspects. Here are some examples from both sides to help you get a grasp of these factors and to see where the technology is headed in the near future.

Who is using 3D printing?

It’s crucial to understand that 3D printing is a rapidly developing technology, which comes with its set of inherent benefits, but also lags behind traditional manufacturing processes in some aspects. Here are some examples from both sides to help you get a grasp of these factors and to see where the technology is headed in the near future.

DO you need a 3D printer?

Once you have your design ready, it’s time to print! You have two options: either buy your own 3D printer or outsource the printing service. It’s an important decision to make, so there are some comparisons to help you make the right choice based on your specific needs.

Buy a 3D printer if…

you’d like to 3D print regularly (2+ a week)

you have a specific application that you’ll be using your printer for

you are ready to make a sizeable investment

you love tinkering and making with machines

you have a garage or a free room to set the printer up

Outsource service if…

you’re new to 3D printing and you’re not yet sure how many prints you’ll need

you’d like to print using multiple technologies and materials

you’d like to access the latest technologies right from the launch

you’d like to focus your time on creating and perfecting your design

you’d like to test and learn first before deciding which printer to buy


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