What is 3D Printing?


3D printing is also known as Additive Manufacturing and is a term that refers to the wide range of 3D printing technologies that are available. 3D printing basically means the creation of an item from a digital 3D file. 3D printing is built up in layers.

There are many different technologies that are used for 3D printing but they usually all fit into the following types:

Powder Based Technologies

Powder based technologies includes Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Colour Jet Printing (CJP).

Light Polymerised based technologies

Light polymerised based technology includes Stereolithography (SLA), Digital Light Processing (DLP) and Multi-Jet Printing (MJP).

Extrusion technologies

Extrusion technologies include Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF).

What is Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)?

There are many different manufactures of Fused Filament Fabrication, which is the most commonly used 3D printing technology. Usually these 3D printers use PLA, ABS and other materials too.

Fused Filament Fabrication is the 3D printing technology that is usually aimed at consumers. This is because consumers can make their own 3D printer cheaply, as they will have public access to the Replication Rapid Prototyper (RepRap) Project. The RepRap Project has the goal of enabling people to create their own 3D printer at low costs. RepRaps are 3D printers but they have the added ability of being able to produce the parts that are required to create another identical printer.

What happens during the process is a filament of a certain material is fed through a tube leading into a heated extruder. The heated extruder will then melt the material that’s being used before the material is extruded in small dots, this can very often be in layers of about 100 microns or 0.1mm. Over time the 3D printer will build these layers up. Support material will have to be used if there are any overhangs, for instance an archway.

Fused Filament Fabrication is the perfect technology that will help bring your projects to life rapidly and cheaply.

What is Stereolithography (SLA)?

There are many different applications where Stereolithography would make the ideal choice of technology, for instance jewellery making, prototyping and dentistry. These all require the finest of details that you can achieve with Stereolithography technology.

Stereolithography technology works by using a resin and a light. The light will cure the resin. Instead of building up from the base, which is what happens in Fused Filament technology, Stereolithography pulls upwards, from a bed of resin, with the light curing each layer, as it’s being pulled up.

If you require items that boast the finest of details then Stereolithography is the ideal technology for your needs. You can create the most beautiful, finest detailed and intricate of items, at the fastest of speeds.

What is MultiJet Printing (MJP)?

MultiJet printing uses piezo print head technology, to create parts and products that boast the finest and most delicate of details. Layer by layer, photo curable plastic resin or casting wax materials are deposited. MultiJet printing is an inkjet printing process and enables you to create moulds, patterns and parts that have the finest of details that can be used for various applications. MultiJet 3D printers offer high resolution and are highly economical to operate. For easy post processing they boast a separate, dissolvable support material.

The removal of the support material is hands free which means that even the finest of details and complex internal cavities can be thoroughly cleaned, without any damage.

Thanks to MultiJet printing technology the products you create will have a smooth surface finish and can achieve accuracies that rival SLA, for many different applications. With MultiJet 3D printers you can use standard office electricity and they are compatible too. This provides you with affordable and convenient access to manufacturing aids and also high quality prototypes.

MultiJet printers can print virtually any geometry and will provide you with high volume, scalable throughput, allowing you to increase production.

What is Direct Metal Printing (DMP)?

With Direct Metal Printing you can create complex, high quality metal parts from 3D CAD data. Inside the machine, a high precision layer is directed to metal powder particles. This will then selectively build up thin horizontal layers, with one being built up after the other. This is outstanding technology and will allow you to create metal parts that have the most challenging of geometries that you would not be able to create using traditional casting or subtractive technologies. You can print a variety of functional metals from prototypes to production series, of up to 20,000 units.

Thanks to Direct Metal Printing you can achieve the industry’s best surface finished parts that boast outstanding accuracy. You can also look forward to lower part weight because of the complex and thin walled structures.

Direct Metal Printing enables you to achieve extremely complex and small shapes, all without the need for tooling.

What is Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)?

Selective Laser Sintering is a 3D printing process where the smallest particles of thermoplastic powder are fused together from the heat of a laser. Gradually, layer by layer, models are built up, which will go on to take the form of a 3D product.

The laser is used to bond and harden small grains of metal, glass, ceramic, plastic and other materials together to create your final 3D product or part. One of the great benefits of Selective Laser Sintering is that it doesn’t require the support structure that many other 3D printing technologies require. As the product lies in a bed of powder, no supports are needed. This benefit alone will conserve materials. Selective Laser Sintering is capable of producing geometries that no other 3D printing technology can. You also won’t have to worry about damaging the part you’ve created, while removing the supports.

Thanks to Selective Laser Sintering you can create complex interior components and entire parts.

Selective Laser Sintering is capable of creating highly durable parts that are suitable to stand the test of the real world. Selective Laser Sintering parts are so robust they rival those that have been produced using traditional manufacturing methods, for instance injection moulding. Selective Laser Sintering products and parts are currently being used for a wide variety of applications including aerospace and automotive.

Final Thoughts

We hope we have helped you learn more about 3D printing or Additive Manufacturing. There are so many outstanding technologies that are available, which will enable you to bring your professional and creative projects to life. Whatever the task, there’s certain to be a 3D printing technology that’s more than capable of meeting your requirements.

Get in touch to discuss how 3D printing could help you.

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