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March 31, 2016

What You Need to Know About 3D Printing

Whether it is for creating art, fashion or building an entire home; 3D printing has come a long way and is quickly becoming a trend. Maybe you are planning to dive into the world of 3D printing as well. Here are a few things you should know, however, before you decide to look for a 3D printer.

What is 3D Printing?

3D Printing or Additive Manufacturing involves using a digital file to create three-dimensional solid objects. It can be achieved with any of the three types of 3D printers available; the most popular being the one that uses fused deposition modeling (FDM). Here, the objects are created by heating the plastic and extruding it to be pieced together layer-by-layer. This process is also known as the additive process.

Stereolithography is another type of 3D printing, which uses the additive process as well. It makes use of an ultraviolet light beam to create a model out of a pool of photosensitive liquid. This results in a high-quality printout.

You can also find another type of 3D printing in the form of selective laser sintering (SLS). This is a bit like stereolithography except for its usage of lasers and powders in place of the UV light and liquid. The laser melts the powder to create a layer of the printed material, enabling the creation of metal objects in some models. This is not possible with the other two types of 3D printing.

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What’s needed in 3D printing?

In addition to a 3D printer, 3D printing requires materials and models. You can find two types of materials: Polylactic Acid (PLA) and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). These are thermoplastics that become soft and malleable when exposed to heat and then hard when cooled. Let’s take a look at the benefits and disadvantages of each of these materials:

  • Polylactic Acid (PLA) – Polylactic acid is derived from corn starch and is ideal for beginners who are dabbling in 3D printing. It is the perfect material to create small and simple household items. The best feature of PLA is that it is biodegradable and environmentally sound. It also cools quickly, so there are minimal problems with model warping. You can find this material in both solid and translucent colors, so the printed objects get a glossy look.

The biggest disadvantage of this material is its low melting point, so models may readily deform under high heat. It is not the best material to use when you need joints and interlocking parts.

  • Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) – Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene is a petroleum-based plastic with its greatest advantages being its strength and flexibility. Due to the flexibility of this material, you can easily create interlocking pieces. ABS also has a higher melting point, so there is a lower chance of your creations deforming under high heat.

Unlike PLA, ABS takes a much longer time to cool so your models may easily warp. The worst part about using this material is that it emits fumes during printing so you will need to take precautions for such.

When it comes to 3D models, you can either create them yourself or download an existing model blueprint online. It can be time-consuming to create a 3D model, so you want to opt for the second option. You can find some sites providing a wide variety of 3D models.

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Pros and cons of 3D printing

Just like everything else, 3D printing itself comes with its set of pros and cons. Let’s take a look at the biggest advantages and disadvantages of this technology.

Pros

  • Endless possibilities in the medical and design field
  • Helps in reducing labor, cost, and time in the manufacturing process
  • Possibility of more customization options
  • Reduces risk of danger in designing

Cons

  • The technology still has a long way to go
  • Slow print speed
  • Limited option of material
  • Requires a bit of expertise in operating in 3D printers
  • Possibility of unnecessary overproduction and counterfeit items

Safety concerns

There are a few safety issues we need to take note of when working with 3D printers. For one, we should remember that we are working with heated plastics. In addition to the plastics and Extruders, the print bed itself can become very hot in some printers. If you are not careful, this can cause severe burns. There may be no enclosure around the print area in some printers so you should be extra cautious when working with such printers.

As mentioned earlier, ABS plastics have a tendency to release fumes during the printing process. Although there is no report on the impact these fumes have on general health, they can be quite overwhelming. The best thing to do is to keep your 3D printer in a room that is well-ventilated.

While 3D printers can be used for creating kitchenware, it is important to remember that the materials may have additives despite them being food-safe on their own. Additionally, FDM-type printers may create products with porous surfaces that can attract bacteria build-up. It is best to limit using 3D printing for creating kitchenware.

The future of 3D printing and how it impacts businesses

In a survey conducted by PwC on U.S. manufacturers, it was found that two out of three companies were already implementing 3D printing – whether it was experimental or creating final products. This goes to show that 3D printing is already shaping the manufacturing industry in the U.S. and will eventually play a crucial role. It offers companies the opportunity to manufacture in the U.S. instead of having to outsource.

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone recently predicted that 3D printing could enable Nike to become a pure software company within a 10-year period. 3D printing offers a broad scope of localized production for both consumer and industrial goods. Maybe you need a part for your washer, or your kid needs new shoes, you can quickly create all of that from the comfort of your home with 3D printing. However, localized production could result in a dramatic change in the supply chain and may even eliminate it altogether.

3D printing offers endless possibilities in customizing the materials used in production. Doctors are already creating customized knee replacements with the help of this technology. We might soon see pain medication and antibiotics being infused into the material and designed to release slowly over time. Eventually, we will be able to print living tissue, which will transform the medical world as we speak. Researchers are currently experimenting with how we can print organs that can be used for transplants.

Conclusion

As you can see, 3D printing offers endless possibilities in the manufacturing world and may altogether reshape the way we manufacture. Maybe this could cause severe damage to the supply chain, or it may give consumers easy access to industrial and consumer goods. With several pros and a few cons, this technology can prove to be either a bane or a boon for businesses.

What are your thoughts on 3D  printing?


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Gaurav Sharma is the Co-founder of Attrock, a result driven Digital Marketing Agency. He’s a certified Google Analytics and Adwords specialist who regularly contributes to reputed publications like the Huffington Post, TechCrunch and many more. He leverages his experience and knowledge as a digital marketer to help influencers monetize their efforts and eCommerce and SaaS companies grow their revenues. When he isn’t inspiring his team of devoted individuals to achieve more, he can be found globe trotting, sampling all that the world has to offer.

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