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Computing Trends: 3D Printing

Before the era of computer-aided design (CAD), models, lasers and prototypes, individuals were laboriously carving materials from wood or sticking plastic pieces. The revolution of technology in the 1980s brought a solution to the problem. The concept of rapid prototyping resulted in the development of more automated methods. Three-dimensional printing stemmed up from this idea, in which product designers manufactured their rapid prototypes by employing sophisticated equipment that was similar to inkjets.

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In simple terms, 3D printing is defined as a manufacturing process whereby material is laid down, layer by layer, forming a three-dimensional object. Furthermore, it is referred to as additive manufacturing because objects are built from scratch and the process is additive, in contrast to subtractive techniques in which materials are cut, milled, drilled, or machined off.

As far as recent inventions go, the advantages of 3D printing make it one of the most promising technologies. The additive technology is one of the biggest advantages of 3D printing, it opens a whole new way in which products are created and it provides a lot of advantages compared to the traditional manufacturing methods. For instance, since the process is automatic, fewer expenses are dedicated towards labor. Furthermore, unlike traditional manufacturing that is subtractive, 3D printing is additive, hence, less waste is produced. Additive manufacturing is also quicker than traditional methods. Lastly, it gives the user the freedom to design any model on the desktop. Regardless of the overall benefits of 3D printing technology, it is essential to consider a special set of criteria when selecting a 3D printing process. These include budget, mechanical requirements, cosmetic appearance, geometry and material selection. Some processes outweigh others in certain aspects.

The term 3D printing encompasses several manufacturing technologies that build parts layer-by-layer. Each varies in the way they form plastic and metal parts and can differ in material selection, surface finish, durability, and manufacturing speed and cost. Selecting the right 3D printing process for your application requires an understanding of each process’ strengths and weaknesses and mapping those attributes to your product development needs. Stereolithography (SLA) is regarded as the original industrial 3D printing technique. It is suitable for producing parts with high levels of detail, smooth surface finishes, and tight tolerances. The quality of surface finishes on SLA products make it aesthetically pleasing and also, aid in the part’s function, for instance. testing the fit of an assembly. It is vastly applied in the medical field, specifically in creating anatomical models and microfluidics. The main types of printers used for SLA include the ProJets, Vipers, and iPros 3D printers.

In contrast, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) uses nylon-based powders that are melted into solid plastic. It is essential to note that since SLS parts are made from real thermoplastic material, they are durable, appropriate for functional testing, and can support living hinges and snap-fits. As compared to SLA, SLS parts are stronger but have rougher surface finishes. Furthermore, SLS does not dictate the need for support structures, hence, the entire build platform can be used to layer multiple parts into a single build. This makes it suitable for part quantities higher than other 3D printing processes. Often most SLS parts are used to prototype designs that will be later on injection-molded. The sPro140 machine is the most common type of SLS printer.

Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is the most popular desktop printing technology for plastic parts. The functioning of the printer is based on the principle that extruded plastic filament is deposited layer-by-layer onto the build platform. It is a cost-effective and quick method for producing parts. There are some scenarios in which FDM can be utilized in functional testing, however, the technology is limited due to parts lacking strength and having relatively rough surface finishes.

Lastly, Digital Light Processing (DLP) is similar to SLA in that it also uses light to cure the liquid resin. Nonetheless, the difference is based on the fact that DLP uses a digital light projector screen while the former uses a UV laser. This suggests that DLP printers can image an entire layer of the build all at once, leading to faster build speeds. As a result, it is used for rapid prototyping and the low-volume production runs of plastic parts.

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3D printing can be used at several steps of an architectural project. During the designing phase, it can be used internally to create the physical formalization of a volumetry at a certain scale. These formalizations can participate in the iteration work which exists when creating architectural projects. When presenting projects, 3D printing can participate in the creation of the architectural model, which is a fundamental tool to communicate with clients. Therefore, it allows the creation of prototypes for the building industry. 3D printing can also take part when erecting the building itself. Indeed, the simplicity with which you can use it and the freedom of shape that it gives can help, for instance, create architectural elements for the building. The possibilities are numerous and always evolving.

3D printing in medicine improves the daily work of all professionals in the medical sector, allowing them to save more and more lives. From the creation of medical tools and equipment to custom-made prosthetics, 3D printing has a significant impacting the medical industry as it is helpful in several aspects. For example, it is used to create custom-made medical tools and adapted devices like prosthetics and implants for various patients, depending on their condition. In this sphere, 3D prostheses have an edge over the traditional ones as they are cheaper and can be fully adapted to the morphology of the patients, their habits, and their disabilities. It also proves essential in helping surgeons train. Some surgeons are using CT scans to create 3D models and print them. This enables them to get a better view of the problem, to train on the real replica of the heart, spine, or any part of the patient.

Additive manufacturing can be used to create various industrial goods. In this context, industrial goods are products that are used for the production of other goods or services. They comprise equipment or machinery, as well as any other components required by such industries. It is advantageous in this sector as it is fast and reliable. Plastics are the most used materials for the industrial goods sector and are closely followed by metal. Metal 3D printing offers advanced mechanical properties, perfect for machinery, tools or any industrial parts.

3D printing is gaining popularity in the creation of industrial parts as it is associated with several advantages. For instance, with rapid prototyping, the prototyping time can be shortened from weeks or months down to a few days. Moreover, it will also improve the accuracy of the final prototype, owing to better management of iterations. 3D printing gives a person the flexibility and freedom to produce any part imagined as long as the design guideline is respected. This is not the case with traditional manufacturing technologies, such as injection molding. Consequentially, it allows for the creation of lighter and stronger parts that could not be produced by any other traditional manufacturing technique. Complex geometries are also now fully accessible.

Additive manufacturing allows complex ideas to live in the real world. That is why 3D printing is a true asset in education; it makes the learning process easier, from primary education to university. For instance, biology students can 3D print organs for cross-sections and gain a better understanding of the human body. Chemistry teachers could print out complex molecules for the students to study. It can also help with geography lessons. 3D printed areas representing topography, population or demographics would help the students solve real-world problems.

Today additive manufacturing is a major player in the arts & entertainment industry. Every year it steps a little bit more into the spotlight; it has changed the way costumes, props, and movie sets are built, not to mention prototyping favorite electronic devices. Movie studios and fan clubs have created customized action figures and other memorabilia for fans. Through this, they have been able to participate in personalized marketing as they have managed to reinforce the customers’ enthusiasm and passion.

Furthermore, many accessories are required to shoot a TV program or a movie. Most of them are unique and need to be printed only once, that is why professionals of broadcasting often prefer 3D printing to manufacture because it is easier, cheaper and faster.

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Although 3D printers employ a variety of materials (such as plastic and metal) and techniques, they share the ability to turn digital files containing three-dimensional data-whether created on a computer-aided design (CAD) or computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) program, or from a 3D scanner-into physical objects.

Similarly, regardless of the type of 3D printing employed, the general printing process is mostly the same, that is, generic. A three-dimensional model is first produced using CAD software. The software also allows the designers to create virtual simulations of how the object will behave under virtual conditions. The CAD drawing is then converted into an STL (standard tessellation language) format, which was initially developed for SLAs. Specifications, such as size and orientation, are then designated and printing is initiated. The machine begins printing layer by layer and the process can take between several hours to days to complete depending on the size, materials used and machine.

3D Printing Technology has been present for almost two decades and is now as popular as ever. The broadness, immersiveness and innovativeness of this technology are allowing people to stretch it and continuously discover more interesting and more challenging things with its application. It is among the most innovative and cutting-edge technology human beings have discovered to date. There are so many amazing reasons why people are leveraging this technology this much. However, one that appeared to emerge among the rest was when it was used in China to create 10 houses in a day. The principle of house building with 3D printing varies with the type of printer. For instance, some use construction material and concrete as ink; however, assembly of constituent parts is required. In contrast, other printers are mounted on a rail system that rolls up and down a construction site and builds a house layer by layer. As a result, no assembly is required.

This has driven the future applicability of additive manufacturing which is to build homes after natural disasters or to solve the problem of low-income housing.

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