Overview of 3D printing
Updated: Oct 22
3D printing is an Additive manufacturing process, turning a 3D computer model into a physical object using a 3D printer. A 3D printer is a type of CNC machine, using computer controlled movements and commands to manipulate the printer hardware to produce 3D geometry. Material is typically layered down as per the machine instructions to gradually produce a physical representation of the CAD 3D model. Additive manufacturing is referred to as the opposite process of Subtractive manufacturing, where material is only added when required rather than subtracted from a billet.
3D printing started in the early 1980’s and was then known at Rapid Prototyping, however things didn’t take off until recently. In early years the machines were used mainly by large manufacturers for producing plastic parts. These machines were very big and expensive and most of them were variants of SLS printers, however the build area of these SLS machines were small compared to the size of the machine.
These machines then become commercially available, but still at a high cost and mainly using SLS technologies. In 2009, FDM printer patents had expired and FDM 3D printers had become open source that had led to an increase in development. The overall development of 3D printers with varying designs helped release new printing technologies for FDM and FJM. The cost of 3D printing components began to reduce significantly as well as vast improvements with the accuracy and reliability.
In recent years the 3D printing industry has matured with FDM 3D printing being utilised by hobbyists and home users, which in turn has helped spread the buzz word “3D printing”, gaining further traction within the public space. New industrial printers have emerged using technologies based on SLS, FDM and FJM processes, these printers have a larger build area and a variety of material options. Materials used for FDM 3D printing are now packaged in a standard filament form that allows materials to be used across a wide range of varying FDM machines rather than a proprietary variation used for each FDM printer.
Progress within the 3D printing industry has come a long way and is ever further evolving, with new material options, faster printing times and greater knowledge base of 3D printing within the community. The overall time scale of engineers and designers sending off a 3D model and having a physical product being manufactured has reduced significantly.