3D printing is a very fascinating process in the manufacturing world. It isn’t a new manufacturing method, but it seems as if it is, as it is only recently becoming much more available to the people and businesses. In fact, 3D printing is a relatively underground process at the moment; however it is gaining serious momentum. This style of manufacturing has a wide variety of materials to choose from; over 60 in fact. 3D printing allows for the creation of virtually anything with virtually no geometrical limits on each design. Organic creations can come out of this manufacturing method, as well as rigid pieces. I want to cover one method of 3D printing in particular, sometimes referred to as infiltration. This method is used only by a company known as X1 with sand, and zcorp.
In a nutshell, this manufacturing process uses 3D printing to create a weak and porous product, which is then dipped in epoxy, wax, or super glue. Whatever chemical or material that the 3D part is dipped in will then fill into the product like water to a sponge. Based on the final product being so porous, it doesn’t take much for the wax, epoxy, or super glue to fill in, yielding a reasonably hardened product. Let me cover the full process.
Like all 3D printing processes, a computer image will have to be created in some form of CAD software by an engineer or 3D developer. This computer file will then be sent to the advanced computer on the 3D printer. All 3D printing processes are CAM processes, or computer-aided-manufacturing processes. What does this mean? This means that the computer in the printer will tell the jets exactly where to move, and when to do it. When the 3D printer starts up, it will begin by laying down layers of powdered material on to the build envelope, or the “build table” within the printer. Each layer is around 25 microns thick or so. A human hair has a diameter of 20 microns in many cases. Within each layer, the 3D printing process involves laying down an adhesive chemical to hold the material together in accordance to the 3D blueprint designed earlier. The 3d printing process will repeat as each layer is laid down and fused together until a final 3D printed product comes through. The product is pulled from the build envelope I mentioned earlier, where the excess material powder surrounding the product it is recycled. The product will be covered with excess powder, but it can easily be dusted off. The product that leaves the printer is very weak. It will have a lot of air trapped within it; in fact, up to 40% of the product could consist of air. This means that the product is very porous. To fix the product from crumbling very easily, a process known as infiltration is applied to the product. The product is dipped in epoxy, wax, or superglue to gain integrity. Based off of the porous nature of the product, it will essentially suck up the epoxy, wax, or superglue very easily. This results in a final product of a material like sandstone which is somewhat fragile, but very unique.