3D Printing - Start to Finish
Updated: Jan 19
Almost every single 3D print starts with an idea, whether that idea is to solve a problem or improve an existing design, the end object is the physical manifestation of that idea. However a couple rough sketches on a napkin requires going through the 3D printing process in order to become a physical object.
A 3D model is required, taking the idea and producing 3D geometry from it. The geometry is refined until the designer is happy it will solve their original problem. The designer will also ensure steps are taken so that the 3D geometry is suitable for 3D printing. Parametric CAD software such as Solid Edge, Fusion 360 or SolidWorks can be used to produce a 3D model from a sketch
The 3D model then needs to be exported into an STL file, a mesh file type which converts the original geometry into lots of triangles. The amount of triangles used for the model will define the resolution, a higher triangle count will increase the quality of the end print but will also increase the STL file size, these settings can be adjusted when exported from a CAD package. A STL version ensures that the model is watertight and manifold which allows for a slicer program to easily work with this format of the model rather than the original CAD file.
A slicing program such as slic3r or Simplify3D is a dedicated program often issued with the printer hardware, it turns the STL file into machine code or “G-CODE”; a computer language that the 3D printing hardware can understand. During slicing the material profile and machine settings are embedded into the G-CODE, all settings are stored on the G-Code file and therefore the printing hardware does not need to be configured again. The machine code controls the movements with great precision and other hardware of the 3D printing device, which works in a similar way to that of a CNC router or CNC milling machine.
It’s all handed of to the 3D printer now where material is loaded and ready for printing. The 3D printer runs through and executes each line of G-CODE one at a time. However this can vary slightly between 3D printing processes such as FDM and SLS. As the 3D printer continues to read through the GCode, the physical 3D printed object is completed.
Removal of the printed object from the 3D printer sometimes requires removing the build plate from the 3D printer and then removing the 3D print from the build plate. Good bed adhesion allows for the 3D print to remain in place on the build plate during printing, but parts can usually “snap” off from the bed surface.
Post processing is often required on a completed print. Support material and swarf will need to be removed from the 3D printed object. The object may need to be sanded and/or deburred. Additional coatings such as priming or painting can be applied to the 3D printed object. Post processing will vary differently depending on the printing technology used.
The 3D printed design can be checked if it fits that of the original purpose whilst also checking the quality of the print and dimensional accuracy, or if the design needs to be adjusted and re-printed..