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3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a method of creating almost anything you can think of by using a computer-controlled printer. 3D printing takes digital files and transforms them into real, three-dimensional, solid products. With a 3D printer, you are able to design and manufacture everyday items such as shoes, jewelry, auto parts, medical equipment, homes, and even artificial organs right in your own home or office!
The process begins with creating a virtual design of the object you want to make. This design is made in a CAD (Computer-Aided Design) file, using a 3D modeling program which serves as the instructions for what to print. This file can be considered as the blueprint of the object that you want to manufacture.
To prepare forprinting the digital file created in a 3D modeling program, the computer software thinly slices the final model into hundreds or thousands of horizontal layers. When this prepared file is uploaded in the 3D printer, the 3D printer reads every slice and proceeds to create the object by laying down successive layers of material (such as metal, plastic, glass, etc., depending on the item being manufactured) until the entire object is complete, without any signs of layering.
There are several different typesof 3D printers, and not all 3D printers use the same technology to manufacture their objects. But no matter what type of 3D printer is used, they all share one key factor: all 3D printers create a three-dimensional object by building it layer by successive layer, until the entire object is complete. Below are two types of 3D printers:
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM):
These printers melt a plastic filament and deposit the plastic in layers until it fills up the model (the virtual design that was created in a CAD file). Each layer stacks on top of the previous layer and fuses with it as the material hardens almost immediately, to create a 3D object. There are two types of plastic used in this 3D printer: ABS plastic, which is sturdy and made from oil-based resources; and PLA plastic, which is biodegradable (meaning, it breaks down and decomposes naturally, and is safely re-absorbed into the environment) and made from plant-based resources.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS):
This technology uses a high-power laser to fuse powders made of tiny particles of plastic, metal, ceramic, or glass, into a mass that has the desired three-dimensional shape. The way the laser does this is by scanning the layers generated by the
3D modeling program, one at a time, on the surface of a bed of powder. The laser binds the powder into a solid mass, by way of heat and/or pressure. After each layer is created in this way, the “bed” is lowered, and an automated roller adds a new layer of powder to it. The process is repeated until the object is completed.