3D Printing – How Exactly Does It Work?
3D printing has truly taken the world by storm – sort of. It’s not as fantastical as it was prophesied, but the technology does drive many of the most efficient industrial processes enjoyed today. So what’s all the magic behind it?
First and foremost, you need to understand the general concept. All 3D printers you will find the market are additive in function. That means they start with a certain amount of material and add more and more of the same material unto itself until they have created the intended product.
Specifically, these are the technologies that make 3D printing possible:
1. Sterolithogrpahy (SLA)
Stereolithography (SLA) is the king of all 3D printing technologies. SLA is a layer-based mechanism where sections of a liquid medium, referred to as a phytopolymer, is solidified with the use of a layer. A metal platform is dipped in the photopolymer and positioned at about one-tenth of a millimeter or closer – one layer’s thickness – away from the surface. The first layer is then subjected to an ultraviolet laser and solidified, and then the platform repeats the process to create another layer. This isn’t a highly efficient method of 3D printing, but it’s compatible with a range of interesting materials (for example, ceramics) for a relatively cheap price.
The simplest form of 3D printing that is also the most compatible with mass users is called Extrusion Deposition. It is also the easiest type of 3D printing in terms of visualization. Here, a robot nozzle works like a glue gun with extremely precise control, squeezing out a plastic building material as it moves about. The idea is to produce one toughened layer on top of another.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
For a tougher range of materials, the primary option has been Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). This technique requires spitting out an aerosol of the building material into space where the object is to be created. A highly precise laser blast then causes the molecules of the aerosol (typically of metal) to fuse until it increases in size and becomes the final product intended. Selective Laser Melting (SLM) technology is a more advanced form of this technology that works in a similar way. But instead of using laser, SLM melts the building material particles completely so that denser and stronger final metals can be created.
Finally, there’s carbon fiber 3D printing, one of the more specialized forms of the technology, which is typically used to make low-density, high-strength parts. These specialized and composite building materials, however, have not yet entered the higher end of the price range. Enthusiasts can make a lot of carbon fiber parts which are even better than metal parts for just a little higher than $5,000.
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