To get into the subject, we are going to explain what exactly is three-dimensional printing, a bit of history about the origin of this process and how it works to see the amount of profits it can have today and in the future, as well as the different printing methods, materials and some domestic printers with which we can start.
What is 3D printing
3D printing is a group of additive manufacturing technologies capable of create a three-dimensional object by superimposing successive layers of a certain material. A process by which physical objects are created through the placement of a layered material from a digital model.
Therefore, it is a process in which a three-dimensional physical object is created through a digital object or models by means of a 3D printer that can use different technologies and materials to superimpose layers to create a perfect replica.
A little history
Although it may seem like a modern term and technology, the truth is that in the year 1976 The first equipment and construction materials for 3D printing have already been developed. A few years later, in 1981, Hideo Kodama invented two AM manufacturing methods of a three-dimensional plastic model with a photo-curable polymer.
In 1984 Several projects were presented and patented based on the stereolithography process, which is based on adding layers by curing photopolymers with ultraviolet rays lasers. In addition, a system for generating three-dimensional objects was defined by creating a pattern of the object to be formed that gave rise to the STL file format, which is widely accepted today for 3D printing.
In the year 1992 The first SLA type (stereolotigraphic) 3D printing machine was developed and was the work of the 3d Systems company. An ultraviolet laser solidified a photopolymer layer by layer to create three-dimensional objects. Although they were not very perfect parts, it made one think of the great potential that this type of machine could offer.
Seven years later, in 1999 Great strides were seen with the first organ raised in the laboratory by the research team at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine through their project to print organs and tissues with 3D printing technology.
In 2006 the first SLS or selective laser synthesizing printer was built. A machine that uses a laser to melt materials during the 3D printing process and that gave great hope to the manufacture of industrial parts, prosthetics, etc. A couple of years later, through the RepRap project, the first printer capable of replicating its own components came to light, allowing identical printers or spare parts to be built.
In the year 2011 Shouthampton University engineers designed a 3D printed drone that was built in just one week. In that same year, it was also possible to see the first prototype of a car whose bodywork had been created through 3D printing or how this technology was brought to a very different market such as jewelry, even being able to print pieces of gold and 3D silver from certain models.
In recent years we have seen multiple applications in dental implants, bone prostheses, etc. We have even seen how 3D printers were recently used to make medical supplies to help fight coronavirus in hospitals, respirator adapters, protective screens, etc.
How it works and 3D printing methods
3D printing requires the use of a software, the corresponding hardware machine or printer and the materials used for their own printing and that they all work together. The printing process itself consists of creating three-dimensional objects from the overlapping layers from the bottom up.
Before starting the process, the software breaks the chart into thin layers as the diameter of the output material. For each layer, the printer moves on the plane to release material on the corresponding coordinates and thus form the figure in three dimensions and identical to that designed in 2D.
So, the first thing we need to print a three-dimensional object is a file created with some 3D modeling software. The next thing is to use the ideal material for its manufacture. Generally thermoplastic materials are used, but there are also 3D printers capable of using other materials such as metal, resins or polymers. That is, in this case the cost of the printers is much higher since they must be able to melt the material for use in layer printing.
And finally there is of course the printer itself, which as we can already deduce, there are different types depending, above all, on the material they use for 3D printing.
There are different technologies available for 3D printing that differ mainly in the way the different layers are used to create the pieces. Some use melting methods of the material to form the layers, such as SLS or FDM, while others deposit liquid materials that are solidified with different technologies. Among the most used methods include:
Injection printing: In this method, the printer creates the layer model by spreading a layer from the part section. This process is repeated until all layers are printed and is the only one that allows full color prototype printing.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM): As its name suggests, this method deposits a molten material on a layer-by-layer structure that is subsequently synthesized by a laser for solidification. This method also includes metal synthesizing by laser or DMLS.
Stereolithography (SLA): Stereolithography or SLA technology is the one that uses photopolymeric liquid resins that solidify with the use of light emitted by an ultraviolet laser. In this way, layers of solid resin are created until the object is formed.
Light curing by ultraviolet light: This time, UV light photopolymerization, or SGC, uses a liquid polymer container that is exposed to light from a projector under certain conditions. In this way, the polymer hardens as the mounting plate is moved downwards little by little to create the different layers as the polymer solidifies.
Photon absorption photopolymerization: In this method the 3D object is created from the use of a gel block and through the use of a laser. In other words, the gel solidifies in the areas where it is focused with the laser due to a process of optical non-linearity of the photoexcitation. The remaining gel is then cleaned.
Ice printing: We have also recently seen how methods or techniques have been developed that, through a cooling process, allow 3D prints to be made using ice as a material. A technology still in development and whose advantages are yet to be seen.
Applications and materials
Based on the methods used for 3D printing, we have seen that different materials can be used. And is that a printer can not use any material to print but must use some compatible with the type of printer and technologies used.
There is a wide variety of materials used for printing objects in three dimensions, from liquid, solid, flexible, transparent, opaque, colored materials, etc. Materials that according to their properties can satisfy the needs of the pieces or objects created from them, since each one has different characteristics and properties that allow the creation of certain objects with a certain resistance or with greater precision. Among the most used materials are:
Polylactic acid (PLA): It is a polymer made up of elements similar to lactic acid and with properties similar to those of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) that is commonly used to make packaging. A thermoplastic made from cornstarch, cassava, cassava, or sugar cane.
Laywoo-D3: Material formed by the mixture of a polymer, similar to PLA, and wood dust in different percentages and that offer a result with a wood-like appearance and that can be easily painted and sanded.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS): On this occasion, it is a very resistant plastic that withstands high temperatures. It offers some flexibility and is easy to paint.
High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS): It is a variety of polystyrenes, a fairly fragile polymer at room temperature and that it modifies by adding polybutadiene to improve its resistance.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET): It is a type of plastic widely used for beverage containers. Chemically it is a polymer that is obtained from the polycondensation reaction between terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol. It belongs to the group of synthetic materials called polyesters.
Thermoplastic elastomer (TPE): They are a type of polymers or a mixture of polymers that form thermoplastic and elastomeric materials. In other words, they combine the advantages of elastic materials such as rubber itself and plastic materials.
Filaflex: It is an elastic filament with a polyurethane base and other additives that together offer great elasticity. Printing with this type of material is slower but is very useful for certain objects.
Laybrick: It is a material that results from the mixture of various plastics and plaster. This makes the objects look stone-like and easy to paint and sand.
Nylon: Synthetic polymer from the group of polyamides. An elastic and resistant textile fiber widely used for the manufacture and preparation of fabrics and fabrics.
Amorphous metals (BGM): Amorphous metals with those that have a disordered structure at the atomic level, which allow various forms for their solidification.
As we can imagine, the applications of 3D printing are multiple and very varied thanks to the different techniques and materials that can be used depending on the type of object, precision of details and resistance. Some of the fields of application for 3D printing are:
Medicine and health: It is already a reality the fact of being able to create certain parts of the body through 3D printers and that are totally tolerable by the organism. In the field of prosthetics and other specialties such as dentistry, there is perhaps more use. That without forgetting the great advantage of being able to create pieces or sanitary ware very quickly.
Education: As far as education and training are concerned, the fact of being able to create exact replicas of very abstract concepts, makes visualization and understanding improve considerably.
Industrial: There is no doubt that in the industrial sector it is a great time and cost saving to be able to create pieces of different materials quickly.
Archeology: In this sector, 3D printing is also a great help and advantage when it comes to replicating real objects without the complex and laborious process of modeling, reconstruction, etc.
Fashion and fabrics: One of the sectors where three-dimensional printing is also used is in fashion. Numerous international firms have already made use of 3D printers to manufacture slippers, clothing, bags, accessories and jewelry.
Food and nutrition: There are printers capable of substituting some culinary processes, the use of 3D printing to make incredible desserts is even a reality.
Overview: In short, there are multiple uses that can be given to a 3D printer in different areas of our lives, including at home. It can be very useful for toy making, antique replica, architectural project replica, etc.
The future of 3D printing
3D printing has evolved a lot in recent years and the infinite possibilities it offers have already become clear. Today, although it is already used in certain areas, the truth is that it is expected that in the future they will take on even greater prominence than ink printers have today.
And is that three-dimensional object printers offer much more possibilities than ink printers. The truth is that the expectations on this type of device are very high, especially since it is expected that they can change our lives in the near future.
In the industrial field, it is expected to reduce production times and costs, but without a doubt, where 3D printing has generated the greatest expectation is in the field of medicine or health. For a long time we have been listening to how three-dimensional object printers could create human organs totally tolerable by our organism, even making use of the same person’s own cells.
This would mean the possibility of carrying out many more organ transplants than are done today, avoiding waiting lists and lengthening people’s life expectancy.
The same goes for the possibility of creating bones or prostheses for all those with different mobility problems. It has even been heard already about the possibility of imprinted bones that could be reabsorbed naturally by our own body until the body is able to regenerate that bone. Some milestones have also been achieved for the creation of drugs, which would allow the automated manufacture of medicines with special and personalized formulas.
But the possibilities that 3D printing can offer us are almost infinite. So much so, that there are various initiatives and projects for the construction of printed houses, which means the possibility of building houses in poor countries at a low cost and without the need for so many resources. Not to mention that this type of construction is much greener than conventional construction.
Best printers to get started in 3D printing
There are different types of printers depending on the printing methods used. Based on that, prices also vary a lot, therefore, if we want to start in this world of 3D printing for domestic use, the usual thing is to buy a 3D printer with FDM or SLA modeling technology. Next we are going to show a compilation of the best home printers that we can buy on Amazon at a good price.
Comgrow Creality Ender 3
This Ender printer model uses fused deposition modeling technology, offers a maximum travel speed of 180mm / s and has a gross weight of 8.6kg. It has cool features like the ability to resume printing even if there’s a power outage, it’s easy to assemble, and it’s pretty quiet. Its price on Amazon is 252.99 euros.
This model is also 3D FDM printing and it is an extremely quiet printer. It also has strong security measures that make it ideal for home use. It uses only PLA, it has a WiFi connection, it is compatible with Windows and macOS, it has a touch screen in different languages and it has an Amazon price of 299 euros.
ANYCUBIC Mega S
This model is one of the most recommended in the online shopping giant when it comes to 3D printing. It is a printer with great compatibility of materials such as PLA, TPU, ABS, HIP or even wood, among others. It has a color TFT screen, is easy to use and offers the ability to resume printing in case of any failure or unexpected shutdown. Its price is 349.99 euros.
This model is an ultraviolet light curing 3D printer. It is equipped with 40W UV lights, it has a touch screen for easier handling, it offers great printing precision (especially if we use ELEGOO’s own resin), a printing speed of 22.5mm / h and its price is 259, 99 euros on Amazon.
ANYCUBIC ES1-Photon 02
Like the previous Elegoo model, this 3D SLA printer uses ultraviolet light to solidify the resin and form three-dimensional objects very easily in our own home. It supports offline printing, it is easy to use and it has a touch screen for much easier handling. Its price on Amazon is 259.99 euros.