If you’re a fan of all things sci-fi and futuristic, you’ll love the 3D printer.
In case you haven’t heard of this incredible piece of technology, the 3D printer can turn a digital model into a real, physical object. This could be (within reason) anything you want – from a mug or toy to a piece of medical equipment or machinery parts. In short, it’s your childhood dream.
If you’re thinking of using or buying a 3D printer, there’s a lot to consider. Luckily, we’re here to help. So let’s take a closer look at everything you need to know about 3D printers and ask that all-important question – are they really worth it?
What Is A 3D Printer?
A 3D printer is a printer that can turn digital 3D models or CAD models into a physical, three-dimensional object. 3D printers do this by using a layering method – the chosen material is applied layer by layer, slowly building up to create your physical model.
These printers use similar methods to the classic inkjet printer, but their additional software, tools, and materials help them make 3D objects.
What Are 3D Printers Used For?
These printers are used to create physical architectural models in various industries to create a myriad of applications. Let’s take a closer look at some of the industries that use 3D printing and the objects that can be made with them:
- Surgery: The creation of prosthetic limbs
- Archeology: Fossil reconstruction
- Dentistry: Dental products
- Consumer products: To create things like furniture, footwear, and eyewear
- Engineering: To create manufacturing tools and mechanical parts
- Forensics: Reconstructing evidence
What Materials Do 3D Printers Use?
3D printing is incredibly diverse. This diversity is arguably the most significant selling point of 3D printing. Manufacturers have the power to determine each aspect of their product from start to finish, including the shape, strength, and texture.
This is because 3D printers can be used with a range of materials to suit a variety of applications. So let’s take a closer look at some of the materials used in 3D printing.
- Plastic – this is the most common material used in 3D printing. Plastics include polylactic acid (PLA), Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), Polyvinyl Alcohol Plastic (PVA), Polycarbonate (PC)
- Resins – such as high-detail resins for intricate models, paintable resin for smooth-surface prints, and transparent resin for a range of products
- Metal – including bronze, nickel, aluminum, titanium, gold, and stainless-steel
- Carbon Fiber – this acts as a top-coat for plastic materials to increase their strength
- Graphite and Graphene – to create flexible device parts
- Nitinol – used primarily in medical parts thanks to its elasticity
- Paper – to achieve realistic prototypes
Now we’ve covered the basics of 3D printing, let’s explore the pros and cons of using 3D printing.
3D Printers: The Pros
3D printers produce far less waste than traditional manufacturing methods. Using lightweight parts also increases the fuel efficiency of printed parts, so the benefits go far beyond material waste.
Speeds Up Design And Production
One of the biggest benefits of 3D printing is that it speeds up the design and production process. This may depend on the complexity of the design and its parts, but in most cases, 3D printers can produce objects in just a matter of hours. This is much faster than traditional machined or molded parts.
Create On Demand
With 3D printing, you can create objects on-demand, which spares the need for extensive inventory space. It can also avoid lost profit from unsold products which is common with traditional methods. All 3D design files are kept in a virtual library, so they can simply be printed when needed.
3D printing can allow you to perform prototyping quickly so that you can sail through each phase of the process with ease. 3D printing is also an inexpensive way to create prototypes compared to machined prototypes.
More Diverse Than Traditional Manufacturing
Unfortunately, traditional manufacturing methods often come with design restrictions, which don’t cater to the creation of more advanced or intricate products. Thankfully, 3D printing is so diverse that you can make more varied and flexible products than you can with standard machining.
3D Printers: The Cons
Not Cost-Effective For Large Scale Production
The costs for 3D printing are static, unlike injection molding prices which decrease in cost per unit. This means that although the initial costs for 3D printing are lower than traditional manufacturing methods, it may cost more in the long term, mainly when producing products at scale.
Limits On Production Size
Unfortunately, most 3D printers have small chambers. This means you’ll face some restrictions on the size of the parts you can create.
This isn’t to say you can’t make large products with 3D printing, but many parts will need to be printed separately and fused together after production. This is time-consuming and may not be practical for some projects.
Potential For Weak Part Structure
3D printing works by using a layering method that builds a product one layer at a time. Although this is an effective method, it does mean that some parts may be more susceptible to damage and weakness if put under stress.
What’s The Future Of 3D Printing?
3D printing is an incredible technology. While it may not come without its issues, the possibilities are endless, and developments suggest that the future of 3D printing will be more prosperous than ever.
For example, a report from SmarTech Analysis suggests that the dental industry will adopt 3D printing as its dominant technology by 2025, and by 2027, it will become the leading production method for dental devices and restorations in the world.
Research also suggests that 3D printers will become more innovative. In addition, many manufacturers are now beginning to incorporate sensors and machine learning into their printers, which can monitor the building process in real-time and ensure all requirements are being met.
Now we’ve explored the ins and outs of 3D printing, there’s one question left to be answered – are 3D printers worth it?
In our opinion, yes! These printers can build a range of products in a myriad of industries. They’re also cost-efficient for small projects, environmentally friendly, versatile, and ligh12tning-fast. If that isn’t enough, the future of 3D printing is looking bright.
Predictions suggest this manufacturing method will overtake traditional machining methods in several industries, including the dental industry. Now is the time to take advantage of the 3D printing revolution!