The 3D printing age - part I

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The 3D printing age - part I

Since the 1980 when the very first concept of 3D printing was introduced to the world as Rapid Prototyping, the technologies have expanded into multiple variations of the same process – additive manufacturing.

Back then, additive manufacturing was a new way of production, using only the amount of material needed and giving a large freedom in form and materials. It’s most common form is known as 3D printing with which we are all familiar with. And with the creation of the desktop 3D printer, 3D printing resonated with a large group of individuals, starting the 3D printing age we are in today.

3D printing has had a massive evolution over the last years, and still continues to do so. The constantly increasing number of 3D printing methods result in an expanding variety of 3D printer manufacturers and with it, new communities.

The communities in their turn tinker and push their machines to the limit, unveiling new ways to do things and giving back to the steady development of 3D printing.

This development and interaction has led to the creation of several methods to achieve additive manufacturing. Each taking a different take on the way a object can be 3D printed.

3D printing types

Stereolithography (SLA) is the oldest implemented 3D printing method and it is still used today. The technology was patented in 1986 and it involves creating 3 dimensional objects out of liquid plastic with the help of a laser.

Digital Light Processing (DLP) is similar with the SLA process, the main difference being the light source. If stereolithography uses a laser the DLP uses conventional light like arc lamps. One major advantage would be the high quality of the printed models. Although this technique also uses supports and needs finishing, it produces less waste and has lower running costs then other techniques.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is another pioneer 3D printing technology first revealed in the ’80. It developed as years passed and became one of the most adopted 3D printing technologies worldwide. It builds parts through a process called extrusion, adding one layer on top of another until the model is done.

FDM

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is a technology similar to SLA. The main difference is that it uses a powdered material instead of resins. Its major benefit is the fact that it doesn’t need not use any kind of supports while printing resulting in quality prints. Metal and metallic alloys can also be used as a material in this process.

Selective Laser Melting (SLM) is close to the SLS technology as it uses the same procedure for melting and merging metallic powders into 3D objects. The difference between melting and sintering is the state the material is in when building the 3D object. With SLS the material gets hot enough to fuse with itself, whereas with SLM, the material is completely molten to fuse to a homogenous part. This can only be achieved with a pure metal.

Electronic Beam Melting (EBM) uses an electron beam to fuse different metallic powders into the desired model layer by layer. This process is similar to SLM and can use a wide variety of materials such as stainless steels, cobalt alloys, nickel alloys, copper nickel alloys, tantalum, titanium alloys, etc.

EBM

Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM) uses paper, plastic or metal laminates that are pressed and fused together with the help of heat. A laser or knife then cuts the layers into the desired form followed by post processing for finishing. This method of 3D printing has low running costs due to the availability of materials and can create large parts due to the lack of any chemical reaction in the process.

3D printing Communities

Together with the first commercial 3D printers on the market different communities – online groups, websites, forums and offline groups of makers - started to emerge and grow. As the number of 3D printer owners is continuously rising these communities play a crucial role in the development of the industry. Their main purpose is sharing personal opinions and cases, sharing different models and most important to help each other through personal experiences.

Other types of communities include 3D printing hubs or maker communities that help individuals that own 3D printers get in touch with prospects and clients thus helping ‘makers’ monetize their 3D printing businesses.

Besides these communities, 3D printing manufacturers developed different professional methods of helping their customers’ better use the equipment. Read more in part 2 of 3D printing culture.