How 3D Printers Work
The process of 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, consists of making three dimensional solid objects out of digital designs. They are constructed by putting together the material in layers. 3D printers are used to make gifts, clothing, prosthetic limbs, hearing aids, scale models and many other items. This type of printing is beneficial to both the consumer and business markets.
The way that 3D printers print are basically the same, the differing factor for each printer is the way that the layers are built together to create the final product.
Start with making a virtual design or a concept of what you are trying to create. This virtual design, or blueprint, is created using Computer Aided Design (CAD) software or any animation modeling software.
In order to prepare a digital file for printing, the 3D modeling software “cuts” the created model into thousands of horizontal layers or cross-sections. These layers act as guides for the printer to ensure the object is the exact size and shape requested. The average 3D-printed layer is around 100 microns or micrometers, which is equivalent to 0.1 millimeters. Some printers have the ability to deposit layers as thin as 16 microns.
The 3D printer reads each layer and creates an object. In both CAD and animation modeling software, what you see on-screen is what you get. Once you have a design completed, send it to the 3D printer with the standard file extension, .STL. When a file is sent to the printer, it pulls the bio plastic filament or fiber through a tube and into an extruder, where it gets heated it up and deposited through a small hole and onto the plate that builds the product.
Once the completed design file is sent to the 3D printer, choose the specific output. Depending on the printer, this material can be plastic, rubber, paper, a polyurethane-like material, different metals and more. Every printer has a different process but the material is usually sprayed, squeezed or transferred to a platform another way. The printer blends every layer so that the layers become hardly visible, and the result of this will be the three-dimensional product.
The finalize the object, the 3D printer makes passes over the platform, much like the way an inkjet printer works, placing layer on top of layer of the material to produce the finished product. This process can take hours or days depending on the size and complexity of the product.