Have you heard someone mention something about FDM, SLA and SLS and do not exactly know what they are? Welcome to the world of 3D printing. No, it’s not the regular printing done on shirts. It’s more complicated than that.

What Is 3D Printing?

3D printing refers to any type of manufacturing process where 3D parts are additively built in layers based on a CAD data. This technology is now considered very important at if offers a way to manufacture products where a particular design comes to life with the help of a computer and a printer.

How It Works

It all starts with CAD design. The digital CAD file is rendered using a design (CAD) software. Once this is completed, this is then exported as a standard tessellation language or STL file. In short, the file will be translated in a way that it will have triangulated vertices and surfaces. Then, the STL file is sliced into hundreds or thousands of 2D layers.

  1. The 3D printer reads the file. The 2D files will be read by the printer, where these are considered as the building blocks of the layers, one on top of the other, which forms a three dimensional object. This process is common in all 3D printing technology even for SLA and SLS.
  2. The layer of thickness of the individual layer will be dictated by material used, technology involved, and desired resolution. The thick layers will mean faster build times while thinner layers on the other hand are ideal for finer resolution.
  3. Once part is sliced, this is now ready for the build.

3d printing flowers

3d printing flowers*

How 3D Printing Is Changing The World of Manufacturing

3D printing is impacting the manufacturing industry in three major areas – time, design, and costs.

Time

If you take a look at the length of time needed to manufacture products in the past, we can definitely say that 3D printing has revolutionized the way manufacturing is done. In the past, it could take several days or even weeks to assemble key parts in many products. With 3D printing, it is possible to get a product prototype in just overnight. The final product with many parts is now possible to assemble in as little as one or two days.

If you were a design engineer back in 1985, this is how things would have been done. An idea for a dream project is born. The first thing you needed to do was go to the drafting room and draw the idea that was in your head because back then, your company was still starting out and you did not have the skills and the software CAD available to you. You carefully draw the details with the use of a drawing paper and pencil, careful that you do not miss out on any important detail. After several days, you decide that you have it all buttoned down. Then, you look for a modeling firm that can help you get the first model. They of course have to do this manually, and it takes several more days of painstaking manual labor and fabrication. Another two or four weeks of waiting time. After deciding that you need CNC machining, the machine drafters help you translate your design so that this can be used by the machine as a program where it is executed line by line. After more than a month, you are still in the early process of development of your product.

If you are going to compare the time of production if you did it in 2005 where advanced 3D printing was available, the process would have been much different in terms of time frame. Your story might probably go something like this. You have a dream project. You rush on the project, drawing a rough sketch and then render this using CAD modelling, where you have all the exact dimensions. Then, you just upload the CAD file to a prototyping machine. Next thing you know, it’s ready for review by your team. Everybody takes a look and make suggestions for improvement. A few more prototypes are created as a result. Once the perfect model has been decided, your 3D printing partner prints out the parts, done in just five days.

As you can see, 3D printing allows for a better lead time.

Design

The newer printing technologies available today like SLA and SLS offer better freedom when it comes to design. In the past, you were limited to what you can do because printing technologies were not very good at rendering complicated designs. Now, it doesn’t matter if you have complex, intricate or multi-layered designs. There are several types of 3D technologies we have and they use different materials, offering the ability to create a range of products. You can say that design is almost limitless these days.

Cost

Labor is one of the main reasons why some products are more expensive than others. 3D printing allows you to reduce not just on labor cost. And since it renders faster compared to manual labor, you also increase productivity.

Conclusion

3D printing is the new way to create products. It offers better lead time, flexibility and lowers production costs.

Reference

*Image from on http://www.3ders.org