Three years ago, printing 3D objects at home sounded incredible. But in just a few years, 3D printing has exploded. The transformation from niche technology to game-changing innovation has captured the imagination of 3D laser printer manufacturers and enthusiasts. 3D printing has the potential to radically change manufacturing by allowing companies to design and produce products in new ways, while reducing material waste, saving energy, and shortening the time it takes to bring products to market.
What is 3D printing?
3D printing technology was initially invented by engineers and physicists in the 1980s and has since made great strides. 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is the process of creating an object by depositing material one small layer at a time. The basic idea of additive manufacturing can be found in rock layers deep underground, but a more modern example is a regular desktop printer. Just as an inkjet printer adds single droplets of ink to form an image, a 3D laser printer adds material only where it is needed based on a digital file.
In some 3D printing processes, approximately 98% of the raw material is used for the finished part. Furthermore, 3D printing allows manufacturers to create new shapes and lighter parts, using less raw materials and requiring fewer manufacturing steps. This can translate into lower 3D printing energy consumption-up to a maximum of 50% less energy for certain processes compared to traditional manufacturing methods.
Although the possibilities for additive manufacturing are endless, today, 3D laser printer is mainly used to manufacture small, relatively expensive parts using plastic and metal powders.
Understanding how does a 3D laser printer work?
First, a 3D blueprint is created using computer-aided design software. For example, 3D laser printers have been used to manufacture everything from robots and prosthetics to custom-made shoes and instruments. After clicking "print", the machine takes over and builds the object automatically. While the printing process varies depending on the type of 3D printing technology, material extrusion is the most common process used in the desktop 3D laser printer.
Material extrusion works like a glue gun. The printing material (usually plastic filament) is heated until it liquefies and is extruded from the printing nozzle. Using information from the digital file - the design is sliced into thin two-dimensional sections so the printer knows where to place material- the nozzle deposits the polymer to form a thin layer, typically 0.1mm thick. The polymer cools and hardens quickly, bonding to the layer below it before the construction platform drops and the print head adds another layer. Depending on the size and complexity of the object, the entire process can take anywhere from a few minutes to several days. After printing is complete, each object requires some post-processing, including removing the object from the build platform, removing support structures, and brushing away excess powder.
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