3D printing is beginning to affect quite a few aspects of what we do every day, particularly if you are involved with a variety of hobbies. Before we jump into the aspects 3D printing touches on, let me briefly cover what 3D printing is. This technology is a form of manufacturing that unlike CNC cutting, is geometrically independent. For those who aren’t familiar with manufacturing, that means that designers hardly have to worry about how they design models; especially the model involves a hollow space, or organic shapes. 3D printing is not a form of milling; it is a layer by layer process. For the process to happen, a 3D designer will create a blueprint, or 3D model. This model will be sent to a 3D printer, and the advanced computer will tell the machine exactly where to create each detail of the product. The machine will lay down layers of a specific powder which varies on material; this powder will be as thin as a few microns. Per each layer, dependent on the 3D printer being used and the material, the machine will either fuse the powders together through laser melting, or through an adhesive chemical. The fusing process takes place at each miniature layer. What ends up happening, is that the fusing process bonds hundreds of miniature layers together to form a final product. A product that is 4 inches tall might be 450 layers thick. This assures fine and absolute detail.
The final product will be a product with exceptional detail (depending on material & machine) surrounded by unused powder which will then be recycled in the machine. So, in a nutshell, 3D printing is the layer by layer creation of almost any shape. How can this form of manufacturing that you never heard of apply to your life?
3D printing allows for the creation of almost any shape from such a wide variety of materials. There are over 60 materials to choose from! If you’re thinking about proposing to your girlfriend, you’ll probably buy a ring that was wax-casted through 3D printing. If you work for some kind of an engineering firm, you probably will end up using 3D printing to prototype designs. In fact, a valve for an oil and gas company here in Houston was just prototyped this morning at my office. Perhaps you work in some kind of mechanical industry; let’s say you’re a gunsmith. When looking at creating a custom firearm, you may have difficulty manufacturing the miniature pieces for the interior of a weapon; 3D printing can definitely save the day there! Maybe you are a hobbyist that enjoys scale modeling of some kind. When it comes down to creating your model ship, plane, or medieval character, you can design and create it through 3D printing! Last week a miniature army of spaceships came through our shop, and it was pretty interesting to say the least. Perhaps you need to restore a machine of some kind from decades ago. Maybe the interior of a slot machine or a cooler of some kind was produced in the 1920’s. Finding each individual part would be horrible! Keep in mind with 3d Printers, you could design and create each individual piece. 3D printing has the option to impact us in quite a variety of aspects!