Advances in technology have resulted in a dramatic disruption of the manufacturing sector by creating additive manufacturing. Traditional manufacturing involved breaking down components to produce something new, but additive manufacturing involves adding sequential layers of material to build an object gradually. This is all done through 3D printing. A digital file is transformed into a physical object inside a 3D printer by layering horizontal slices one on top of the other until the final product is complete. It is a revolutionary new way of creating items with the minimal physical effort at the highest possible speed through rapid prototyping. Nowadays, 3D printers are available for domestic or educational use. Here’s more about 3D printing and how to choose a 3D printer.
How Does 3D Printing Work?
3D printing works using three main elements:
- A 3D model
- Modelling software
- Horizontal slicing
A 3D model
The first step in 3D printing is creating a 3D model. This is a digital version of the final product that exists as an individual file. You can create a 3D model yourself using a specialized app, 3D scanner, custom coding or a hepatic scanner. If you want to make the process a little easier, you can simply download a model from a 3D repository for free or at a price. With your 3D model ready in hand, you can move to the next step.
There are many types of 3D modeling software tools available today that fall into 2 main categories; industrial or open source. The industrial software can cost thousands of dollars every year to use, while open source software is free and can be used domestically. When embarking on your first 3D printing procedure, you should begin with open source software. Most of the titles in this category are free, offer classes for beginners, and work within your browser. By using modeling software, you can transform your concept into a format that can be read by a 3D printer, for example, .obj, .stl, or CAD files. Having accomplished that, you can proceed to the next step.
Once you feed the 3D printable file into the printer, it utilizes a built-in 3D slicer that divides your file into thousands of individual horizontal slices. After that, the printer activates a laser-guided spray nozzle to print out your object slice by slice in sequential layers. It is important to note that some 3D printers rely on external slicers that can be connected through USB, Ethernet or SD card slot. Once the slicing and printing process is completed, you will have a physical object created through 3D printing.
Uses of 3D printing
3D printing is used to achieve numerous purposes including;
- Creating consumer products such as eyewear, furniture and footwear
- Industrial components such as machinery spare parts, prototypes and end-use parts
- Dental braces
- Architectural maquettes and scale models
- Fossil reconstruction
- Replication of ancient artifacts
- Evidence reconstruction for forensic pathology
- Movie prop creation
- The physical representation of abstract concepts
How to Choose a 3D Printer
There are hundreds of different 3D printer brands and models available today so it can be challenging to select the best one for you. That said, you should consider the following characteristics when selecting a 3D printer;
Layer thickness achievement is otherwise known as the Z resolution
The Z resolution is the minimum layer thickness that a 3D printer can lay down on a single pass. The smaller this resolution, the more beautiful the layer that is produced and the smoother the texture of the final product. With a small Z resolution, the printing process is slow but the final print is softer and much more detailed.
FDM technology 3D printers use a layer thickness of between 0.1mm and 0.3mm so as to create layers that are as thin as 100 microns (0.1mm). In addition to that, DLP/SLP technology 3D printers can achieve a resolution of 20 microns (0.020mm). If you want to make prints that have complex details, pick a 3D printer that has the smallest possible Z resolution.
The Build Area
The maximum size of an object that you can create with a 3D printer is known as its Build Area and is measured in XYZ. In this aspect, a print can be 10 inches wide (X) by 10 inches long (Y) by 15 inches high (Z). With this in mind, you can choose a 3D printer based on the size of builds that you intend to create. Small to medium-sized 3D printers are great for beginner projects while professional or industrial technicians can choose larger ones. As you make your choice, remember that large projects can still be accomplished by creating small components and then combining them afterward.
The diameter of the filament
The filament is a thin tube that delivers hot plastic to the nozzle of your 3D printer. It provides the raw material that’s necessary for creating your printed components. The majority of 3D printers use a 1.75mm filament, but a select few use a 3mm filament. The wider the filament, the quicker the hot plastic is delivered. In addition to that, a 3D machine fitted with a Bolden Extruder operates best with a 1.75mm filament while one that has a Direct Drive achieves optimum performance with a 3mm filament. Whichever filament you pick, do your best to stick to it so as to ensure consistent product quality.
Its Hot End
The most important part of your 3D printer is the Hot End because it is the site where your plastic raw material is melted down and then extruded into tiny layers to create the final product. There are many types and brands of Hot Ends available today. You can find the best one by considering its maximum printing temperature. Also, check if it has active cooling, the size of its nozzle and whether it can be changed on demand.
Within your 3D printer, the hot raw material emerges out of the nozzle. This is the tip on your Hot End and plays a big role in the appearance and quality of the finished product. The nozzle is interchangeable and can be found in various sizes. Nozzles are available in the following sizes; 0.8mm, 0.6mm, 0.4mm and 0.25mm where the most popular size is 0.5mm.
If you are performing 3D printing where accurate details are required, go for a smaller nozzle. In case you need to implement 3D printing for rapid prototyping, choose a larger nozzle because it is faster. It is essential to make sure that you pick the correct nozzle because it plays a very crucial role in the quality of your finished product.
The hot plastic is fed into a filament through a part known as an extruder and then directed to the hot end. In this way, the extruder acts as a raw material input component. There are two main types of extruders; Direct and Bowden. A Direct extruder is top-mounded and feeds the filament from the motor spindle directly into the Hot End. This type of extruder is easier to work with and enables more excellent control over the 3D printing process.
On the other hand, a Bowden extruder feeds the filament some distance from the Hot End. This reduces the weight upon the nozzle and minimizes vibrations. In this way, you’re able to implement more accurate detailing upon your 3D printed products. With this knowledge in mind, you can choose wisely between the Direct and Bowden extruders while picking a 3D printer.
The cooling fan
A cooling fan is a significant part of your 3D printer; hence is a must-have component. It enables a procedure known as active cooling where the fan keeps your nozzle at an optimum temperature so as to facilitate quality output. Some 3D printers have one fan, while others have up to 3 fans.
The effects of your cooling fan promote the consistency of overhanging features, sharpen the edges and enable the bridging capability. Remember that fans come in different sizes including 25mm and 40mm. Furthermore, some blow the midsection of your Hot End while others focus on the nozzle tip. As such, choose a 3D printer that is equipped with an optimum number of fans executing the correct mode of operation.
The LCD display screen
This is a significant factor to consider when choosing a 3D printer because it provides output while enabling you to insert commands for the machine. An LCD display screen empowers you to operate the 3D printer without the need for a computer system. It provides knobs, buttons and dials through which you can set the desired specifications for 3D printing. The LCD display needs to be equipped with an SD card to read G-code instructions. With an LCD screen on hand, you can enjoy efficient 3D printing and free your computer system for other tasks.
3D printing is a fascinating procedure that exhibits the practicality of additive manufacturing. With 3D printing, you can create products easily while expressing your creativity. Make sure to consider the characteristics above while choosing a 3D printer. In addition to that, ensure that each component fits your precise requirements!