What is 3D printing and how does it work?

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, was developed in the 1980’s as a process used to make three- dimensional objects. Additive manufacturing creates parts from the ground up by fusing together layers of material. Its counterpart, subtractive manufacturing, begins with material and removes excess until only the desired shape remains.

Methods Of 3D Printing

There are several methods of 3D printing. The most commonly recognized is called Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM). This method uses a single nozzle head to extrude melted material, typically plastic, layer by layer onto a build platform according to the 3D data that has been supplied to the printer. One of the most familiar printers in this space, the MakerBot, uses the FDM method. Other 3D printing processes, like Stereolithography (SLA), fuses together liquid material by curing it with a UV laser; while Binder Jetting fuses together powder material with a binding spray. Today, these methods are still more expensive and specialized than FDM.

Materials Used In 3D Printing

The materials used in 3D printing are often dependent on the method. Binder Jetting, for instance, might use sandstone material, while SLA and FDM typically use plastic or resin. But what was once a small list of printable materials has been rapidly expanding. Plastics today include stronger substances like nylon, as well as biodegradable plastic. Paper, ceramics, and metals are growing in popularity and helping to expand applications for 3D printing. Most recently on the scene are food materials like chocolate, sugar and even meat.

Steps of 3D Printing

It’s important to note that the process of 3D printing has many steps and is not as automated as some might think. From le preparation (e.g., creation, conversion), to actual printing, to the finishing work post-print (e.g., sanding, coating, removing support material), the output of 3D printing takes time. However, open source le sharing on sites like Thingiverse and GrabCAD are making it faster for designers to get started.

How is it being used today and what are the benefits?

Big strides in both printer technology and material exploration have led to a variety of exciting applications across industries. In fields like design and architecture, 3D printing has long played a role in model and prototype creation. But more and more it is being used to produce end-products like jewellery, sculptures, and shoes. Thanks to advances in 3D printed metal, automotive companies are now looking at the potential of 3D printing to full-fill after- sale parts on demand, rather than holding large inventories.
As an early adopter of 3D printing for product development and prototyping, the aerospace industry is following suit, now experimenting with non-critical part production. In the marketing industry 3D printing is being used in both playful and functional ways. Barilla recently challenged customers to design a unique 3D pasta design, while McDonald’s is rumored to be creating a 3D printing toys kiosk to print-on-demand Happy Meal parts.

Consumer benefits

Companies are not the only ones experimenting with 3D printing. As the technology moves from maker to mainstream, more and more people are playing with it at work, at school and at the library. According to OITP Perspectives, a publication by the American Library Association, more than 250 libraries in the U.S. offer the use of 3D printers to patrons.3 Home use is growing as well. A 2014 report by research agency OnePoll found that one in three Americans would consider buying a 3D printer for their home. In a study conducted by pii, twelve people with 3D printing experience ranging from one time use to weekly use, were asked to share about their 3D printing process and the intention behind their prints.

While consumer applications of 3D printing spanned across dozens of applications — one-of-a-kind gifts, prototypes, decorations, toys, jewellery, functional fixes — the purposes behind 3D printing all ladder up to 5 key benefits:

  • Thoughtful Moments: I can capture the memories and connect to others.
  • Playful Creation: I can bring my imagination to life.
  • Design Control: I am in the driver’s seat to design my products
  • Con dent Decisions: I can rest assured that I’ve gotten it right.
  • Immediate Access: I have what I want, when I want it.

These consumer benefits are core to what differentiates 3D printing from other processes and why it appeals to consumers and companies alike.

Company benefits

3D printing is transforming the way companies do everyday business. When the benefits of 3D printing are leveraged, the technology enables companies to reach new audiences, connect with customers, and capitalize on the efficiencies the technology provides. While 3D printing has the potential to add value to businesses in numerous ways, there are unique technological benefits that make it stand apart from other processes


The layering process of 3D printing allows for a deeper level of complexity than traditional manufacturing processes, making it possible to print components with intricate shapes and complex geometry. Many 3D printers can print multiple materials meaning that multiple components can be fabricated as a single unit with no seam.


In standard manufacturing processes efficiencies are gained as more pieces are printed due to the amortization of tooling costs. This results in large batch prints with little variety and no opportunity for customization. The cost of 3D printing is the same for the 100th print as it is for the 1st print. This allows companies to print small batches and highly customized goods without additional upfront investment in tooling. The ability to print one- off or small batch designs also opens up an opportunity to print custom goods that the exact size and need of the customer

Speed of prints

When standing in front of a 3D printer watching each layer print, the process may not feel fast, however, relative to traditional manufacturing methods, it is. Objects can be created in a matter of hours, whereas before, the time it takes to prototype, tool and create a final product could take weeks. The speed has also enabled companies to leverage the technology to create prototypes in successive rounds in- house thereby reducing the wait time needed to re ne prototypes overseas.

The future of 3D printing

3D printing is a nascent technology with big promise. While there are still many hurdles to ensuring the technology is affordable and practical, the rate at which the technology is evolving is rapid. Hurdles such as cost, speed, quality and accessibility are already being addressed today.

Cost and Speed

As more makers and companies experiment with the technology, new more efficient models are being launched. Experts predict 3D printing will become 50 percent cheaper and up to 400 percent faster in the next five years (Siemens, 2014).



        A key challenge in 3D printing is creating the le in the right format for print without 3D modelling skills. Today the ability to build les is a specialized skill of engineers and designers. Software companies like AutoCAD are building intuitive software to make 3D le design and creation accessible to everyone. Programs like Tinkercad by AutoCAD are leveraging intuitive features like drag and drop.


          As more companies create and evolve the 3D printer, the technology continues to become cheaper and better in quality. The average cost of a home 3D printer ranges from $500-$2500. At an enterprise level multiple models are available ranging in level of fidelity and price.

Author : Venkatesh  M
Source :http://www.whateverittakes.com/downloads/resources/WP_3D_Printing_LR.pdf

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