3D printing has been around quite a while and is by no means a new technology but only recently has it become more well known to the average Joe like you or me. 3D printers have been around for many years in an industrial setting and its only recently that we are starting to see the likes of MakerBot and RepRaps opening up the market to consumers and small to medium businesses. People are excited now about the prospects of 3D printers and what the limits are when it comes to printing 3D objects.
3D Printing or additive printing as it is sometimes referred is the process of making a 3 dimensional object from a digital file. The 3D model is created by laying down layer upon layer of material to build up the image. These materials could be plastic, metal, resin or polymer it all depends on the printer.
The consumer printers that are now emerging are cheaper but slower than their industrial counterparts but are still way beyond being a household product due to the large cost.
Different methods of 3D printing
- Fused deposition modeling – This is the most common 3D printing method. The material used is melted onto the printer nozzle and then pushed in to place as it hardens quickly ready for the next layer to be added.
- Digital light processing – Liquid polymer is converted to a solid by exposing it to light. This process is used in industrial printers and can create a very high resolution.
- Inkjet printing — This is very similar to an inkjet printer you would sue at home. The printer uses a resin and a binder to build up layers. This process also allows you to add custom colours to the 3D models.
- Selective laser sintering – this printing process creates solid objects from powders and that can be metal, plastic, ceramic, or glass. Again this is mainly an industrial method.
There are also a couple of other ways of printing but we are not covering them here as they are not that common in their use.
What Can 3D Printers Make?
A better question would be what can’t they make. 3D printers are not limited by moving parts or complex structure. They can already produce tools simple machines and even clothing in some prototypes. The expectation is that in the near future there will no be anything that we won’t be able to print and some even predict in the near future we could be printing 3D circuit boards, bones, aircraft parts, car parts and pretty much anything else you can think of.
Can I buy a 3D Printer
You can if you have upwards of $700 available. This will buy you a very basic model. If you really want to be printing like a pro then you could be looking at anything upwards of $15,000 for 1 of the 2 models HP sell.
Videos of 3D printers in action
Watch as a spanner is printed using a 3D printer. It’s a usable tool too!
Some of the 3D models created using 3D Printers