3D printing technology (also called Rapid Prototyping) is an additive computer-controlled processes that builds parts inside a machine, layer by layer, using a variety of materials and processes. 3D printing can produce physical prototypes directly from the computer. The invention came around the same time as CNC technology in the late 1980s. Although is not as popular as CNC, 3D printing has transformed our ideas of prototype making. This ability has a promising push forward in product development. In addition, 3D printing has a special advantage in complex models, inner flow channel designs, cavity designs, thin walls, and ribs which are difficult to make by any other method.
The steps in 3D printing is as follows:
Step 1: Design file
To start, we have to create a blueprint or three-dimensional digital file of the object we want to print. The most common way to do this is with a Computer Aided Design (CAD). However, there are other professional and entry level softwares that can produce such files. Some ways to do this are
There are some specific design requirements for this wot work, so also be aware of the design requirements.
Step 2: File Formatting
Before sending the CAD design to the printer, it must be converted to an appropriate format. The most common one being STL format, which stands for StereoLithography format.
Other alternatives include .OBJ and .3MF. Although those do not contain color information. For 3D printing in full color, use file formats like .X3D, .WRL, .DAE and .PLY
Not every STL or OBJ file is 3D printable by default, it has to meet certain criteria such as water-tightness, proper physical size, etc.
Step 3: Slicing
Slicing involves dividing or chopping the 3D model into several horizontal layers through several steps. After slicing, a new file format is formed: G-code, with file extension .gcode. G-code is the most widely used numerical code programming language in computer-aided manufacturing to control automated machine tools like 3D printing and CNCs.
Step 4: Printing
The printing machines are made of many moving and intricate parts, and they need correct maintenance and calibration to produce successful prints. The printing machine will follow the automated G-code instructions and does not need to be monitored once the printing starts, as long as there is no software error or the machine running out of raw materials.
Step 5: Removal
This process is to remove the finished parts from the printer. This varies among different 3D printing technologies. For Desktop machines it is simply separating the print from the build platform. For some industrial 3D printers, it requires a technical process with professional skills and specialized equipment in a controlled environment.
Step 6: Post-Processing
This also vary among different 3D technologies and the materials used. Some allow us to handle the finished parts straightaway, others require additional steps to finish the fabrication process.
This step is specifically important for the aesthetic and function of the parts.
Most of the time 3D printed parts are rough and do not have a finished feel. This can be enhanced with methods such as sanding, painting, polishing, etc. To improve mechanical properties many industrial processes can also be used.
This may seem like a time consuming process but as the technology develops, these steps can be automated with ease.
3D Printing Vs Traditional Manufacture