3D printing is a new technological advance which looks set to take the world by storm. It has become such a phenomenon that it could herald a whole new world for manufacturing, among other things. Despite this, many people still are not completely sure what 3D printing is and how it works.

What Is 3D Printing?

3D printing, simply put, is the process of printing objects that have three dimensions. It is also often referred to as additive manufacturing. Much like printing something on paper on a regular printer in your office or home, 3D printing requires a digital file of some description at the start in order for the printer to create the three dimensional object. 3D printing is able to achieve its results by using various additive processes.

Begin With Virtual Designs

The whole process of creating a three dimensional object with a 3D printer starts with a virtual design. The virtual design has to be created in a Computer Aided Design, or a CAD for short. The CAD file can be created with a 3D modeling program or with a 3D scanner. If you are creating an entirely new object from scratch, then you will need a 3D modeling program. When you are creating a copy of an object that you already have, then you will need a 3D scanner.

How Do 3D Scanners Work?

Between 3D scanners and 3D modeling programs, the former is probably the most likely to become a big success. Big companies like Microsoft and Google are now developing 3D scanning technologies and it looks like it will not be long until it is possible to scan 3D objects from a smartphone or other mobile device. 3D scanners also use a large number of technologies in order to generate three dimensional objects. These technologies can include volumetric scanning and modulated light among others. The majority of 3D scanners are rather expensive at the moment, but there are some cheaper models that are available online. These models do have to be assembled yourself though, so it’s important that only people who really know what they’re doing purchase the cheaper DIY models.

How Do 3D Modeling Programs Work?

3D modeling software is what you have to use when you want to create a three dimensional object from scratch without an original object to base it on. In order to get a digital file ready to be printed on a 3D printer, the program horizontally slices the object into either hundreds or thousands of layers, depending on its size and the amount of detail required. Once all of these layers have been created, the information is sent to the 3D printer. The printer then starts creating the different layers one by one. The printer takes all of the layers and places them horizontally on top of each other. While doing this, it is able to place the different layers with such precision that there is no indication that the three dimensional object is made of separate layers.

What Are Additive Processes?

An additive process is a process of creating an object through a variety of layers. When it comes to 3D printing, this means that the three dimensional object is created by laying down one layer of material after another until it has created the complete object. Again, this is rather similar to printing something on a regular printer with paper. If you were to watch the printing process, you can see that the printer will print each layer of text and images one by one from the top of the page right down to the bottom. The additive processes in 3D printing work the same way, only instead of printing ink onto paper, it prints an object in three dimensional form.

So What Can Be Made With A 3D Printer?

There are so many things that can be made with a 3D printer that the list is practically endless. Here are some of the most impressive things that can be made:

  • A fully working padlock and key
  • Replacement parts for damaged headphones
  • Measuring cups made to specific sizes
  • A platform or tripod for a camera
  • A functional combination lock for a safe

These are just a small handful of things that can be made with a 3D printer. For the moment at least, the possibilities seem to be endless for this particular piece of technology.

Industrial 3D Printing

While many people think that 3D printing is rather new inventions, it is actually be playing a part in the industrial world for about a decade or so. Many businesses have been using 3D printing in the past in order to make prototypes or demonstration models before they started making the finished product. Now however, industrial 3D printing has become a big part of commerce and manufacturing.

3D printers are now cheaper than they have ever been before, so more and more businesses are now purchasing them in order to make prototypes. It is saving them a great deal of money while also giving them a reliable prototype before they move forward with their projects. Not only that, but 3D printing also gives businesses the ability to change their prototypes. They can make alterations and create a new version on the same day, which is a great way for businesses to save time and get to the manufacturing process quicker.

Not only that, but 3D printing has moved into the actual manufacturing process now as well. It is now starting to play a big part in rapid manufacturing, which means more and more products will soon be made with 3D printing playing a vital part in the process.

Domestic 3D Printing

Domestic 3D printing has pretty much been reserved to hobbyist since it became a household piece of technology around 2010. Just like industrial printing, home based 3D printers are becoming cheaper all the time. Many models are now available for the same price of a laptop or desktop computer, making them more and more common in a domestic setting.

For the time being, domestic 3D printing seems to be restricted to the hobby world. Having said that, it doesn’t seem like we’re too far away from people being able to create their own objects and products in their own home. In the next few years, it is expected that people will be able to create and assemble their own furniture by purchasing a template of data, printing it out and then assembling it themselves. Considering that 3D printers are becoming cheaper all the time, there is every chance that this technological advancement is only a couple of years or so away.

What Does The Future Hold For 3D Printing?

Because you can create objects with 3D printers, it is thought that this innovation will open a lot of doors in the commerce world. Many manufacturers will be able to make their own products without having to use anything outside of their business. This means that they will be able to do everything in house, giving them much more control over their output.

Some people even feel that 3D printing will be able to go even further than this. Some experts think that it will lead to advances in the medical world. Not only that, but some people even think that 3D printers will eventually be able to make food products. Naturally, this would be a substantial technological advance, but it is something that is long in the future. The first test for 3D printing will be to see how reliable it is making products in the commerce and manufacturing world. If it is successful, then there is no telling just how popular 3D printing will become or what impact it will have on the world as a whole.