Knowledge Base

3D Printers

Overview

As the name implies, a 3D printer allows users to print an object as 3-Dimensional CAD (Computer Aided Design) images. Also called as additive manufacturing, 3D printing is an innovative technology that helps businesses cut costs and develop new methods of production. Though 3D printers have been in use for more than 25 years now, they have been gaining prominence only recently. According to a survey, the 3D printer market in India will exceed Rs. 500 cr by 2022. And of course, the 3D printer market is not restricted to India; the demand for them is increasing the world over. Simplicity of use and almost unlimited customization possibilities has resulted in 3D printers becoming more and more popular as design tools. Since 3D technology allows rapid printing and testing of objects for form and function, it is also called as rapid prototyping. Initially, 3D printers were used as a rapid prototyping solution to make one or two quick physical samples giving the designers a chance to correct the flaws and modify the product. Prototyping still is the major usage of 3D printers but the developments in technology have made it possible to use this 3D printing beyond research and development stages and incorporate it into the manufacturing stage.    

Technology

3D printing is a blend of software and hardware. The 3D printing process starts with a computer aided (CAD) file. CAD 3D software allows for the rapid creation of a drawing of an object in 3D. Computer aided manufacturing (CAM) uses computer software in tandem with machinery to improve and improve the manufacturing process.
3D Printers use a laser or extruder (the material output part of the printer), that move along an X, Y and Z axis to build an object in three dimensions, wherein successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes. These layers can be only a few microns thick at a time. This is an advantage over traditional method which uses subtractive method where materials are cut or drilled from mould. Using the additive process, layers of materials in liquid, solid or material form are fused together. 3D printers thus use additive manufacturing or direct digital manufacturing technology to produce proto type of a product. 3D printers use CAD software like PTC Creo to create a digital blue print first. The object is then built layer by layer. Using this new technology, a manufacturer can develop a working prototype in just a few hours compared to traditional prototyping. The 3D printers developed by companies like Stratasys allow vivid visualization with realistic 3D models. Ultimately, this results in saving time and cost. Especially since the additive manufacturing process also minimizes waste.

As of today, there are four distinct types of technologies used in 3D printers: Material extrusion based 3D printers, Photo polymer, Selective Deposition Lamination and Binding 3D printers.

3D Printing - Revolutionizing Industry

As printing speeds improve, and the range of raw material increases, 3D printing will permit people to improve aesthetics, durability and / or functionality by varying the material composition within a part. As world manufacturing economy shifts from mass production of consumer items like shoes or bicycles to advanced products such as MRI machines or jet engines, several emerging technologies - sensors, big data, robotics, advanced materials, machine learning - are enabling new levels of precision, productivity and innovation. 3D fits perfectly in this new paradigm – called Industry 4.0 - situated as it is at the intersection of materials science, robotics, cloud computing, sensing and imaging, crowdsourcing, data analytics and other areas. 3D printing, like its fabrication predecessors, has created new manufacturing processes, and it promises to change not just manufacturing, but will influence our daily life in one way or other. Truly, nothing short of a revolution!

Advantages of 3D Printers

There are no two ways about it; 3D printing is the way of the future. From manufacturing small objects like clips to entire aeroplane wings, 3D printers are impacting our lives positively. Prosthetics, dental implants and accessories, etc. - 3D printing is all set to revolutionize the medical and healthcare field too. As technology improves, 3D printers will allow for almost unlimited customization, get easier to use, allow for clarity of design and quick prototyping, and waste less.

Disadvantages of 3D Printers

If 3D printers are beginning to look like the best thing since sliced bread, that is not exactly so. A few disadvantages of 3D printers include high cost (especially true of a developing country like India), high energy consumption and speed. High end, accurate 3D printers still cost a lot of money. In addition, 3D printers cannot yet print multiple objects at the same time. This increases the time taken to 3D print an object commercially. Again, in a country like India, where energy is costly, the cost to run a 3D printer is on the higher side. However, as technology improves, these constraints are getting resolved slowly.


What to look for in 3D Printers

Printing Speed

To print a 3D object, printers need to work with a CAD file. Each printer then takes this file and prints the object layer by layer. Sometimes, an object also needs to be finished manually. File to finish speed is an important criterion to consider while choosing a 3D printer.

Accuracy

Different printers have different accuracy. In general, the more accuracy you need, the costlier the printer. It is also important to consider part geometry, size and material shrinkage for production applications.

Printer Technology

There are at least four types of technologies on which all the current 3D printers are based. It is important to understand which technology is suitable for your requirements.

Raw Material

Currently, there is a bewildering array of raw materials available. Not each printer is suitable to handle all the material types. You should be aware of what your requirements before you finalize a 3D printer.


Use of 3D Printers
The utility of 3D printers have made them popular today in countries like U.S., Europe and India. 3D printers are being used in a wide range of fields including dentistry, fashion and of course high-end engineering industries like aerospace, automotive, specialty components, etc. As an example, aircraft equipment made using 3D printers is almost 60 - 65% lighter than traditional methods and equally strong.  As a few of the 3D printing patents have expired in 2014, analysts and industry experts say that 3D printing technology will become a lot more affordable and accessible to every business.

India is already one of the leading nations that is using 3D printers aggressively in its CAD / CAE industry.