You have to admit it: 3D printing is pretty cool. You can turn that 3D model into an object in real life by just clicking print!
A few years ago, 3D printers were not available to the masses. They were only sold as industrial grade machines and were often too expensive to buy. But the Rep-Rap project made consumer-friendly 3D printers available to the market, and even I happen to own one today.
3D printing is also known as additive manufacturing because all of the material goes into making the model. There are many ways to do this. These are the two most common ways.
SLA – Stereolithography printing uses a resin that cures and hardens when a special light is applied to it. When used along with a computer and a high precision laser, this method can produce models that no other type of printer can.
FDM – Fused deposition modeling is more commonly known to hobbyists and desktop makers. Although it is cheaper than SLA, the results may not be as satisfactory. FDM heats plastic filament, which is then extruded through the nozzle. The nozzle builds upon layers and layers of plastic, which eventually forms a model. One of the downsides of this method is speed. Most prints will take hours because the extruder is limited by friction and the speed of the motors.
There are many steps that take place in creating a 3D printed model:
- Create the model. Before you can print something, you need to have a digital representation of it. I use a program known as Fusion 360 to design models for printing. The model is exported in .stl form.
- Create instructions for the printer. 3D printers’ computers are not powerful enough to read the standard .stl models and print them. Instead, another computer program has to convert it into step by step instructions that it can understand. We use something known as a slicer to accomplish this (Even though it doesn’t slice anything).
- You click print, and the 3D printer heats up its nozzle and bed (If you have a heated bed).
- The model starts printing, and within a few hours, you will have a solid model in your hands!