Technology Behind 3D Printing and Metal 3D Printing

I’m still amazed that it can do what it can do. It’s opening conventional constraints on design. That’s really what additive manufacturing and 3D printing can do. It was just amazing because I couldn’t believe that anything like 3D printing existed. The cool thing about it is it’s a layer by layer additive process. And you can do very, very complex geometries that you can’t do in traditional manufacturing techniques. In the old traditional ways, people had to design– not only for functionality– but how are we going to manufacture it. Now with 3D printing, you don’t have those constraints. You just design your part to fit in the space it needs to be in. It allows you to make shapes that you couldn’t get a tool– like a mill or like a laser cutter– inside of a geometry—stuff that is just not manufacture in any other way. It’s finally come into its own and it’s a mature manufacturing process at this point.

So a customer will provide us a CAD file– a lot of times, a drawing. We prefer CAD files so that we can actually pull their file in tune of our tools and look at the virtual image of it, and analyze it for its design to see if it’s right for the process. And then we can advise the customer if they need to make any design changes or if it can be built as-is. And then we integrate that CAD file to create two dimensional slices. Those two dimensional slices are what’s going to be used as primitives to make the object– the solid object. Then that creates a tool path that’s sent to the machine. And once that tool path is finished on that layer, the table indexes down and the next layer builds. And that’s the additive process. And so your part grows from nothing into a full 3D geometry. Having the full suite of 3D printing technologies under one roof is really an advantage to both our customers as well as a service provider.

One of the great things about these processes and about 3D printing in general– it’s not just limited to one type of industry. Every single type of industry can really benefit from 3D printing. Additive manufacturing is really allowing companies and customers and people to get to market faster than they’ve ever gotten before. We can do things in sometimes a fifth, a sixth, a tenth of the time that it would take them in traditional manufacturing methods. So you’re able to get to the market extremely fast, and fast to market wins. People are really testing the waters. We don’t know what we can’t do with this yet. But 10, 15 years from now, what are we going to be able to do with these types of devices as far as making machines that can replicate food or replicate body parts or replicate any type of device that you need for whatever it is you’re trying to fix or work on or accomplish. Our customers are always finding new ways of utilizing 3D printing and there just doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

Soon you may be able to create a kidney with a copy machine. How would you like to download a coffee table? Or at least a digital model of a coffee table that you could customize any way you like so it fit perfectly in your living room and then you just print it out. I’m not talking about a picture of a coffee table. I’m talking about an actual, physical three-dimensional object that lives in your living room. Well it’s all possible. It’s the world of 3D printing and it’s going to change everything. It’ll redefine the way we think about innovation, design, manufacturing, distribution. Everything about buying and selling tangible goods from here to Mars. Simply put, 3D printing is the process of making three-dimensional, solid objects out of 1’s and 0’s from a digital file. 3D printers bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds. It uses very thin layers of plastic, measuring just a few microns, as thin as a sheet of copy paper, to build an object from the bottom up.

This is additive manufacturing. It creates a new item by adding only what is needed. Unlike other forms of manufacturing where the excess is carved, cut or melted away, leaving a ton of waste. And 3D printing isn’t limited to plastics. Already, you can print stuff to glass, metal, food, organs – I’m not talking about the musical instrument, I’m talking about human tissue. I kid you not! A couple of years ago there was a guy who demonstrated he could print human kidneys using living cells as ink. We’re talking about the ability to create transplant organs with a 3D printer. And this isn’t the future we’re talking about – we’re talking about right now! I mean we’ve come a long way from the1980s when a bunch of do-it-yourself nuts decided to kick start 3D printing.

Today, you and I, you know, people who have real jobs, we can actually go out and buy one of these things for like, a thousand bucks. These printers become more popular, the price comes down, which means consumers like me and you can afford to buy one ourselves. Or have a friend print one out for us. Once we get to the point where we can print circuitry directly, you print one printer that prints another printer, and it’s game over. We’re talking limitless customization. You could even scan your entire body and printout your own action figure. Or in my case, an inaction figure. NASA’s using 3D printers to make repairs on space equipment. They use a process called selective laser melting, or SLM, that they use to create a nickel alloy to repair everything like the J2 rocket engine. I mean, this is the promise of 3D printing! We can make our lives as customized as we want, print any object you can imagine, and have it in your hand in just a matter of hours. And in the immediate future, it could mean that astronauts are able to print our repair parts for space craft or space stations, which are pretty important when you’re months away from a rescue mission. I mean, imagine what it would’ve been like if Apollo 13 had a 3Dprinter on board. But then we wouldn’t have had Tom Hanks in space…

So what you might already know is that the filament is a 3D printer’s feedstock which it uses to build the things it makes. All filaments have in common that they are thermo plastics, which means that the filament softens and eventually melts when it is heated. As opposed to metals, which have a distinct melting temperature at which they go from solid to liquid, thermoplastics gradually soften and melt when they are heated up. Which, for 3D printing, means that you can control the viscosity of the plastic by picking a temperature at which the plastic is neither too liquid nor too tough. It also means that we can’t print metals with our filament-based printers. And while you could theoretically print almost any thermoplastic, there are two that are really popular: One is PLA and the other is ABS. So PLA is the most popular filament at the moment. It’s a polymer that is made from corn starch and at the same time is biodegradable, which means that it can be composted under the right circumstances. It’s so popular because, once you get your printer dialed in, it will give you repeatable results no matter what you’re trying to print.

It also smells nice when printing – it’s kind of a mix between cotton candy and popcorn. At the same time, it is fairly tolerant about what machine you print it on – PLA does not need a heated bed for sticking and easily prints onto unheated blue painter’s tape. If you have a heated bed, you can also print it onto plain glass, glue-stick- or hairspray-covered glass. It’s a fairly stiff plastic and printed parts generally turn out fairly strong. However, there are a couple of challenges when printing PLA: One of them is that PLA tends to absorb water from the air, so you’ll need to keep your filament spools in sealed containers when you’re not using them or bake them in the oven every now and then. The other is that PLA often doesn’t cool and harden fast enough when printing it. There’s an easy solution for that, though, and that is having a small fan blowing over the printed part while it is being printed. Many printers come with a fan pre-installed, so that’s already accounted for.

The last downside to using PLA is that it really isn’t temperature-stable and will soften and deform at about 50°C. Now, i know that sounds like a lot, but just leaving a part in your car on a warm day can be enough to have it warping. The other plastic, which is a bit more on the “traditional” side, is ABS. Usually, when someone mentions ABS for the first time, they’ll say that ABS is what LEGO are made of. And that’s true, but ABS is simply a very common plastic and is used in anything from coffee makers to flat screen TVs. When it comes to3D printing, ABS is often used when the part needs to be tough or temperature-resistant. ABS has a bit of a wax-like feeling to it, and instead of snapping like PLA, it bends and deforms.

It’s also not as stiff as PLA and much more temperature-resistant: It only softens at about 100°C, which is why parts for a 3D printer are usually printed with ABS and not with PLA. Now, ABS can be a bit more challenging to print for one reason, and that is that ABS contracts quite a bit as it cools. Because of this, larger prints can warp and become unstuck from the bed or the individual layers of the print can peel apart and weaken the final part. It’s also practically impossible to print ABS without using a heated bed, but then again, most printers come with one as a standard option. When you have one, you can print ABS onto Kapton or PET tape or onto a layer of hairspray or glue stick. So which plastic you choose to print will depend entirely on what you’re using the 3D printer for: i’m personally mostly printing in ABS because i use the parts in all sorts of contraptions where i need parts that won’t deform when they get a bit warm. If you’re going to print light-duty parts or complex artistic pieces or simply enjoy that feeling that your printer will be able to handle almost every part you print, then PLA is probably the better choice for you. Now, the world of 3D printer filaments isn’t just PLA and ABS, there’s now a whole bunch of new and special-purpose plastics, like Taulman’s all-purpose nylon filaments, super-tough polycarbonate, wood-like lay wood or even rubber-like filaments like Ninja flex.

For getting started, you should stick to PLA or ABS and once you’re confident with one of those you can move on to the newer materials. Also, buy your filament from suppliers that have a good reputation and don’t order no-name filament from e bay if you don’t exactly know what you’re getting into. Especially PLA has huge quality differences between the cheap and the good stuff.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *