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What Is 3D Printing?

3D printing which is also known as additive manufacturing is a process in which a solid three-dimensional object is made through various layers of some kind of additive i.e. plastic. The beauty of this technology is that it can make any shape as per needs or requirements: from a simple toy to an entire automobile. The whole process is achieved in a digital machine in which layers of an additive are sprayed on a platform in a pre-defined pattern that leads to the creation of a solid 3D object. It looks similar to sculpture but it’s totally different as it does not involve removal of unwanted layers off of a solid object; instead additive particles form the original object in front of the eyes of the “maker” or 3D printer user.

3D Printing Today

When this technology was first introduced in 1984, it was so expensive that only a few research institutes used it, but now additive manufacturing is entering the mainstream market for everyday domestic use. You can use it for two basic purposes; making prototypes and distributed manufacturing.

There is no field or area that can’t use and benefit from 3D printing. Currently it’s being used in many industrial processes, such as by automobile companies, aerospace, engineering (civil, mechanical and electronic) and the fashion industry.

We may be on the verge of a revolution whereby personal 3D printing machines become globally ubiquitous, so that no one has to buy any household goods and they can make literally anything at home.

Some common industries that will use 3D printing (additive manufacturing):

Food industry

This is the most important and biggest industry in the world. You can forget or neglect anything but you have to produce food for humanity and that is the reason why the food industry is going to use 3D printing more rapidly than any other industry. Imagine you don’t need to use any kind of molds and casts for making customized food items such as chocolates, biscuits or common food items such as bread and pizza.

Medicine

The medical industry can and will use 3D printing for producing human and animal organs on an industrial basis for common people. Although it’s already happening now, but in the future, these organs such as artificial ears, arms and legs will be much cheaper compared to present costs. Many kinds of implants such as jaw implants, skull implants and leg implants are already being manufactured with additive manufacturing these days.

Electronics

The technology and electronic industries are manufacturing the same products for all their customers and up until now, it was not possible to design your own television or computer. As 3D printing is introduced into the electronic space, there won’t be any limits to design according to your own choice and requirements.

Automotive

Audi has already manufactured an entire car using 3D printing technology. In the future, it will be a lot easier to manufacture car parts and whole engines with additive manufacturing machines; perhaps even at home.

The History of 3D Printing

What Is 3D Printing

3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process similar to digital printing, only it is very different as it produces solid three-dimensional objects using additives. These can be of any shape or any size, and the printing is done in a digital machine which is operated from an interface on a computer. The basics behind this idea is that an additive such as plastic is used and the machine sprays thin layers of plastic particles on a platform; forming the object one wants to make. The best thing about 3D printing is that there is no need to use any mold or frame and the layers or additives automatically fall in the right place on the platform to create the object.

There is a misconception that 3D printing and sculpture making is the same thing: it is not. In sculpture making, the machine removes unwanted layers of a solid object that gradually led to a 3D object.

When 3D Printing Was First Introduced

Although it seems like a modern idea 3D printing is an old concept that was first introduced in 1982 by Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial research institute. Two years of solid and hard work culminated in the first 3D printing machine being introduced in 1984 by Charles Hull of 3D systems Corp. At that time, this was not something that a common person could use and it was a very expensive process that took millions of dollars - kept to high profile research institutes and faculties. As we entered into the 21st century, additive manufacturing became cheaper and more accessible to all.

The roots of the 3D printing concept goes way back to the 18th century, when topography and photo-sculpture were both first developed. In a sense modern 3D printing technology builds on those inventions.

Factors Leading To The Invention of 3D Printers

There were times when people did not have access to any kind of printing devices - and then photocopy machines were introduced. That idea led scientists and technologists to imagine printing in three dimensions, instead of just two. Basically sculpture making is the original idea that led people to invent this revolutionary tool. People used to make sculptures and solid objects by carving or un-layering the excessive parts off a solid object and that was time consuming.

Rapid Advances Being Made in 3D Printing

3D printing which is also called additive manufacturing is a process in which solid objects are made in a digital machine using some kind of additive such as plastic. The basic idea behind this amazing invention came from sculpture making. But it is different as there is no removing of extra layers; instead the object is made by adding layers in order to save time and resources. This idea was first revealed back in 1982 and after two years, in 1984 it was introduced to the global market. At that time, it was so expensive that only high profile scientific and research facilities used it, but then in 1990, it became a lot cheaper and from that time, it is being used in many industries and manufacturing companies.

Today, 3D printing is being used both on an industrial level and also for household use. The companies that are using additive manufacturing are using it for quick prototype production and on the whole the finished products are not yet produced with this technology. But it’s only a matter of time before companies will produce all of their end user products with this technology - cutting costs and saving resources. The production and manufacturing time is going to be so short that you will get your customized product on the same day of order. You won’t need to use any product that is made for customers on a global level - instead you will have the ability to order exactly what you want, when you want it. In fact, some companies such as ShapeWays (http://shapeways.com) are already providing this service.

There are some companies that have produced some finished products for customers, such as Audi that has made a whole automobile with additive manufacturing. A number of bio scientific research institutes have successfully made artificial human organs and transplanted these into patients. In the near future, it will be much cheaper and faster - it is quite possible that the artificially produced organs will be made and then transplanted into the patient on the same day. At present, it’s not a very simple process to produce human tissues and other organs to a high standard - but with 3D printing and additive manufacturing, it’s going to be become cheaper and higher quality.

3D printing is being widely used in the industrial sector; but in the near future, it’s going to be in the hands of everyday people worldwide. Imagine you don’t need to shop for any household items and you can make all of them at home as per your own choice and requirements.

Also with this technology you won’t need to use the oven or microwave - you will be able to make all of your food with additive manufacturing such as chocolates, pasta, bread and much more.

Afinia

Afinia is a division of Microboards technology LLC and it’s a leading company in manufacturing 3D printers around the globe. The idea of making 3D printers was first introduced in 1982 and two years later in 1984, the first 3D printer in the world was launched. Then a number of industries started manufacturing with this technology - soon we saw 3D printers in common use in the industrial space.

Afinia is one of the top five 3D printer manufacturing companies in the world and due to its distinguished characteristics; it’s very famous worldwide. This company has been working for more than twenty years in the printing industry, but before 3D printers, it was famous for CD/DVD duplication and labeling.

There are some companies that produce 3D printers for particular use such as office based printers, only for prototypes printers, personal printers etc. But Afinia is one of the few companies who offer the same printer for multiple purposes. No matter if you are a doctor, engineer, teacher of a housewife, you can use this printer for any situation and purpose. The best thing about this particular printer is that it uses very cheap plastic filament as the manufacturing material. There are many advantages of Afinia but the one most important benefit is that it comes in one piece unlike many other printers. This means you don’t need to deal with assembling the printer from a number of parts - you can simply take it out of the box and get started.

Unlike many other companies and manufacturers, Afinia has introduced just one printer into the market: the H-series 3D printer.

It is the only model that Afinia has produced yet and as compared to other similar brands with the same technology, it’s a little expensive but the technology it uses and the characteristics it has, make that price invisible. Unlike many other printers, it comes fully assembled meaning you don’t need to deal with putting together a number of components or waste time assembling them. You just need to install the 3D software on your computer or Mac and the printer is ready to use. This printer has the ability to make any solid object with 5” cubed dimensions. The produced object has an accuracy of 15mm and its printing dimensions are down to the 16 thousandths of an inch. The Afinia H-series printer uses very low cost environment friendly and high quality plastic filament for making objects and it allows printing the object in 5 different colors.

ExOne

Through much research and years of experimenting, ExOne brought a revolution to the spare parts manufacturing business, and the supply chain of ordering and supplying these parts. With the 3D printers this company introduced, the whole manufacturing and production process changed as these printers were actually made for industrial purposes. There are a number of companies that started making 3D printers as soon as they began being produced decades ago, and ExOne is one of the five top 3D printer manufacturing companies in the world.

The ExOne Company was originally founded in 2005 as a spin-off of Extrude Hone Corporation, a global manufacturer for spare parts, machining processes and automated systems - working for more than 40 years in the market. When 3D printing was introduced in 1984, ExOne seized this opportunity to take their company to the next level.

Here are some products that ExOne has introduced over the past few years:

  • 1. S-Max:

This was the first 3D printer that ExOne introduced. It was a simple design which dispenses foundry grade resin into thin layers of specially made sand. The beauty of this machine was that it took the design pattern direct from a CAD file eliminating the use of actual molds or casts. This process created rapid and quick molds without physically carving or making any casts and thus saved a lot of time. Unlike many other 3D printers, this particular model was specially made for foundries, workshops and design facilities. This single machine revolutionized the whole foundry and molding process and reduced a lot of time.

  • 2. S-Print:

This model was based on the previous one but improved a lot in technology and the software used in it. The basic formula was the same as the resin is used as the additive material for moldings and cast making. Same as the previous one, it also took data from a CAD file removing the use of physical structure or measurements. But unlike the previous model, it had bigger building platform in it and actually was pretty suitable for those workshops and foundries that were already equipped with pattern making shop.

  • 3. M-Print:

Unlike the previous models, this machine uses a particular chemical binder to make thin layers of powdered metal. It also took data from a CAD file - suitable for making quick and rapid prototypes with more details and complex structure. It is also equipped with the facility to change the design and its complexity with a few clicks, eliminating the waste of time in restarting the whole process. This model was very suitable and timesaving for parts and bigger size object manufacturing with less time consumption.

MakerBot

Makerbot is an electric appliances and manufacturing company similar to many others in the world but it has something that others don’t. Makerbot produces 3D printers or also called additive manufacturing devices. 3D printing or additive manufacturing is actually another form of printing but it’s done in three-dimensional form. The object is manufactured in digital machines using some kind of additive such as plastic. Thin layers of plastic are sprayed on the platform and eventually this creates the desired 3D object. Makerbot has introduced many cheaper 3D printers for home use that cost about $2000 a piece.

Makerbot or Makerbot industries is a Brooklyn, New York based company that was founded by Bre Pettis, Zach Smith and Adam Mayer in 2009. And from that time, it’s a well-known company in producing 3D printers. The company started selling its printers in 2009 and up until now, it has sold over 4,000 units. Originally these printers were manufactured and sold by RepRap Research Foundation but in 2010, demand for these printers went so high they had to ask Makerbot to step in and supply the parts for 3D printers. Another accomplishment that this company made was buying 3DWorldWide in 2010 which is a well known company in manufacturing 3D computer parts. On June 19 2013, Stratasys Inc. announced that it had acquired Makerbot for $403 million.

Here are some products that Makerbot has introduced over the last few years:

Cupcake CNC:

It was introduced in March 2009. It was the first ever 3D printer made in the industry by a manufacturer for common use and it certainly got a lot of attention. It used ABS, HDPE, PLA and PVA as printing materials.

Thing-O-Matic:

It was introduced in September 2010 at Maker Faire NYC. It was the second 3D printer Makerbot introduced in market after Cupcake CNC. Due to some faults or setbacks in Cupcake CNC, this second printer was updated with all available luxuries and accessories such as heated and automated build platform, a MK5 plastruder, a redesigned Z-stage and upgraded electronic circuits up to generation 4. It was received very well worldwide but with later batches of the same machine, MK6 and MK7 plastruders were introduced.

Replicator:

Replicator was introduced in January 2012 by Makerbot. The first improvement in this updated printer was the platform size. It was approximately doubled than Thing-O-Matic. Another massive improvement was adding a dual extruder that allows printing in two different colors at once. In previous versions, users had to use a PC in order to interact with the printer but in this version, an electronic panel and LCD are added so that there is no need to attach any computer.

Replicator 2:

It was introduced in September 2012 and as it’s obvious from the title, it was an updated form of replicator. It had double sized build platform as compared to replicator. Although it didn’t include dual extruder but other features were kept the same.

Replicator 2X:

It was also released in September 2012 along with replicator 2. It was kind of an experimental introduction in order to analyze which model hits the market. Unlike replicator 2, 2X included dual extruder, a completely enclosed build area, ability to print with ABC plastic on heated platform and updated software to support these features.

PrintrBot

Printrbot is well known and one of the top five companies in manufacturing 3D printers around the world. It was created by Brook Drumm and originally funded through Kickstarter. Unlike many other companies and manufacturers, Printrbot aimed to provide 3D printers for home use and they have made a lot of success in achieving that goal. When many other brands are selling their 3D printers above $1500, Printrbot has accomplished to produce a home use 3D printer under $300 per unit. When this company originally started, they manufacture their first 3D printer which is not available anymore due to some internal reasons and setbacks in the model but this company has introduced four new models which are very well taken in the market.

This trademark of Printrbot is originally acquired by Kickstarter which is a well known company in producing technologies and modern appliances. It was launched in 2009 by Perry Chen and Charles Adler. Many research programs and surveys have nominated this company as one of the most interesting business icons and its official website is named as the most likeable web portal on internet related to 3D printing. The original model of 3D printer that was launched with funds from Kickstarter was disconnected and now four new and updated models have replaced it in the market over the past few years.

Here are some products that Printrbot has developed and bought to market over the past few years:

Printrbot Simple:

It is the first model of 3D printer that was made by Kickstarter. When it was launched in market, it was very well received due to its features and less price tag as compared to other brands or companies. Although at that time, it was a great success but it needed to be updated so the company disconnected it and the newer models were totally different from this one.

Printrbot LC:

The original Printrbot printer was created with plastic RP components and it only used plastic as additive material but this model totally changed the technology. It uses laser-cut design which is quite new and improved in market. It’s very well received in the market because it’s presumably optimized for mass manufacturing. There are two new models which are based on this laser-cut technology but the difference between the original Printrbot and Printrbot LC is just the laser-cut technology.

Printrbot Jr.:

This one is actually an updated form of Printrbot LC as it still uses the same laser-cut technology but it’s comparatively bigger in size and there is more build area is available in the machine. Another major advantage of this printer is that its very light weight and you can easily carry it to wherever you want. Although it’s proved very good in the market but there is a minor setback that this printer only uses PLA filament where other printers also operate with ABS.

Printrbot Plus:

It’s an updated version of Printrbot junior and the main difference is that it can make solid objects up to 8” cubed. Other technologies are approximately the same as compared to previous version but there is a bigger platform in the machine along with aluminum heated plate in the manufacturing area.

Stratasys

Stratasys Ltd is a 3D printer manufacturing company for both office based rapid prototyping and direct digital manufacturing machines. There are a number of companies that are producing 3D printers these days but Stratasys is one of the top five companies in the world. Research workers and scientists use Stratasys printers for making complex geometrical object due to its wide range of thermoplastic materials including ABS, PPFS, PC and ULTEM 9085. Based on the present technology, it’s not unusual news that Stratasys is making 3D printers but the real news is that it’s also working on introducing 4D printers in near future.

Stratasys was originally founded in 1989 by S Scott Crump and his wife Lisa Crump in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. The idea for this company and manufacturing these printers was came from Scott in 1988 when he decided to make a toy frog for his daughter using a glue gun loaded with polyethylene and candle wax. He decided to make the solid object with multiple layers which is also the basic idea behind this revolutionary technology. In April 1992, Stratasys manufactured and launched its first 3D printer in market named 3D Modeler. Unlike many other manufacturers and 3D printer technologies, Stratasys has introduced two difference technologies for its 3D printers; FDM technology and PolyJet technology. Based on these two technologies, it has introduced three basic series of 3D printers; idea series, design series and production series. Each of these series has number of models with multiple uses and advantages. Here we are going to talk about the most important models Stratasys has launched in the market up until now.

Here are some of the revolutionary 3D printers Stratasys has introduced over the past few years:

Mojo:

Mojo is one of a kind 3D printer and it’s also very affordable. The best thing about this particular model is that it’s the first one that can use up to 9 different colors for making solid objects.

UPrint SE:

It’s the second model that was launched after Mojo. It’s also very affordable and most of the industries and research scientists rely on this model for making rapid prototypes and finished objects with great detailed and sleek layers. This printer uses FDM technology to use both ABS and thermoplastic additives to produce durable, more stable objects with most accurate details.

Object24:

This model is basically launched for home and personal use for the customers. Unlike the previous models, this printer uses the latest technology to make the object with layers thin than the human hair which means more details and sleek finishing. It also has an additional quality that you can make movable parts with this model. It uses Polyjet printing technology with VeroWhitePlus as the additive material.

Object Eden500V:

This printer belongs to the second series launched by Stratasys which is called design series. This particular model has the ability to produce solid objects using 17 different additive materials which also includes specialized dental and medical applications for clinical uses. The production tray used in this model is the largest one of all the previous models with 17in build platform for bigger objects.

Dimension 1200es:

This model belongs to the third generation of Stratasys printers which is also called production series. This particular model includes the largest building platform among all the previous models. It runs on FDM technology and it prints in 9 different colors using both ABS and thermoplastic. Unlike previous models, this model has the option for customized layer thickness choosing program in which with more duration, you can choose thinner layer for professional looks and sleek finishing.

VoxelJet

The idea behind this company was first conceived in 1995 and on May 5 1999, VoxelJet was established for the first time. At initial levels, there were only four employees at the company who worked really hard to establish a brand name in the market and after one year, the headquarters of VoxelJet was built in Augsburg. This is one of the top five 3D printer manufacturing companies in the world and it has introduced a number of 3D printer models into the market.

At the beginning, this technology was very expensive and only used by high profile research institutes but after a few years, 3D printers for common uses were introduced and then many companies started manufacturing these printers, including VoxelJet. There is a lot of competition in the market when it comes to manufacturing 3D printers but VoxelJet has established credibility and goodwill in the market with comparatively lower prices compared to similar printers from companies. From the time when VoxelJet started working, it has developed and sold a number of 3D printers; most of them were very well received on global levels.

Only one year into its journey, the company participated in a Bavarian state project and came in fourth place among 1261 other contestants. This gave them a lot of support for the production of 3D printers on an industrial scale and later, in 2000, they sold their first sand based printers to BMW AG and Dailmer AG. Then later the same year, the services branch of the business was launched under the supervision of Alexander Kudernatsch. The company sold their first common consumer based 3D printer in 2005, the VX800. The market at that time, received it very well. In the same year as the first printer launching, the company received its ISO certification for continuing the production of these printers.

Here are some printers VoxelJet has introduced over the past few years:

VX200:

VX200 is the smallest 3D printer among all the models made by VoxelJet. This model is very compact, has a sleek design and is very easy to use both by individuals and industries. Unlike the previous versions, this particular model includes robust technology that ensures long useful life and effective continues usage. Additionally, the object is made in the machine with 160mm thickness layer that ensures very sleek finishing at the end.

VX500:

This model has approximately the same features as the previous VX200 one. Only there is an additional printing head in the model that provides more speed in the printing process. There isn’t much difference but this model is considered as more compatible for office or large scale use in the research institutes.

VXC800:

Unlike the previous versions, this one is also called continues 3D printer due to its durability, long life and use on large scale without interruption. When VoxelJet launched this model, it caused a revolution because with this machine, the building and unpacking process can be done very quickly making it much faster than the older models.

The Future of 3D Printing

3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process through which a solid object is made with some kind of additive material such as plastic in a digital machine. In this process, the machine sprays tiny particles of additive on a platform in multiple layers and these layers form the solid object the “maker” desires. It can be anything from a food item to surgery equipment to an automobile. Although this idea originated from sculpture making, it is very different as there is no removal of unwanted layers - the object is made in its final form. It originated in 1984 but at that time this technology was so expensive that common customers couldn’t use it. But now we have this technology in our hands and many industries and home based enthusiasts are using it for making prototypes and finished products.

When this technology was first introduced, it was so expensive that only research laboratories and scientific facilities used it. But then the inventors and visionaries knew this technology would soon be in common hands and used by multiple industries; and that it would change the world and a myriad of industries. So they introduced early 3D printers to market around 1990, and from that time, many companies are using additive manufacturing for making quick prototypes. 3D printers for consumers at home are now also becoming less and less expensive and much more widespread.

Imagine when you will have a 3D printer in your house, you won’t need to go out and buy household goods. You can make any kind of object at home using your own imagination and creativity. Currently there are only a few industries using this technology due to a number of reasons. The main reason is that at present, this technology is only able to use one kind of production material or additive at a time. But very soon in the near future, this all is going to change forever. There will be 3D printers introduced that will use more than one type of production material at once and this means you can make multiple objects together. No one will require using any type of molds or casts for objects, and all the parts and products will be joint free. There will be no need to make a product or an object into multiple smaller parts and then waste time to join them together. This will save a lot of manufacturing time and money for both industries and common users.

Imagine this technology in the medical industry when no one will have to wait a long time for artificial and customized body parts and any operation will be done in a few hours. Imagine that you don’t need to use anything or any appliance that is made in a distant factory, and you can design and make your own household objects. Yeah, it’s pretty exciting and mind blowing but you are not dreaming it’s going to happen in the next few years.

As with all technologies, 3D printing should become exponentially cheaper and more accessible to the masses over time. Bypassing traditional inefficient (and environmentally destructive) supply chains and enabling anyone, anyone to create the object they need in a matter of minutes or hours. 3D printing is set to explode over the next few years. This page has barely scratched the surface regarding 3D printing, and there will be another article to come.

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