3D Printing FAQ’s

  1. What is 3D printing & how does it work?

3D printing is a process of producing physical 3-dimensional products using the layering method of molten plastics or powders. The molten plastic or powder is piled layer upon layer to produce the part. A 3D computer-aided-design (CAD), part will be drawn and the 3D printer will then use this part to create the 3D object.

2. What kind of things can you make with a 3D printer?

Many different products can now be made on a 3D printer, from flexible products such mobile phone cases to more ridged products such as plastic gears, or hard cases for more precious items. Some 3D printers can now produce metallic parts such as engine components or precision items used in the medical industry.

3. What is the most common material used in 3D printing?

By far the most common material used in 3D printing is plastic. This does come in different forms and grades and can be used for many different applications such as toys all the way up to components used in industry.

4. Can a 3D printer print metal?

Some 3D printers can now print metal and are largely used in industry for rapid prototyping where a part can be modelled in 3D CAD in a couple of hours be in production on the printer ready to be tested. This is said in some cases to be 1o times faster and 5 times cheaper than traditional machining methods. There are also CNC machines which can now have additive manufacturing heads built into them so parts can be made from smaller billets and have additional items added to them, saving material, and speeding up production times.

5. Which materials are best for prototypes and which are best for finished components & how does the cost & production time differ?

Depending on the industry a lot of prototype parts will first be made in a cheap plastic such a SLS as it can give the idea of how the part will look when made. Though the level of detail is much lower, so is the cost and time to produce the prototype part. You can then move to a better more precision material for production once you have approved your prototype.

6. What are the benefits of 3D printing?

The main benefits for 3D printing are the speed with which components can be made and also the cost, especially where a high volume of parts is required.

The flexibility of design is a major advantage as parts can be printed which are difficult to manufacture using more traditional methods. This would be an advantage for an artist wanting to 3D print a sculpture for example.

3D printing does not produce much waste and can therefore be more cost effective and more environmentally friendly.

7. What are the disadvantages of 3D printing?

The main disadvantages of 3D printing are currently the limited availability and range of materials, although this is ever expanding, and new materials become available all of the time.

Post process operations can be a disadvantage depending upon the material used for manufacture. Some parts will require being cleaned up before they can be used, but this is probably in line with traditional machining and manufacturing methods anyway.

Although manufacturing in larger volumes can bring 3D printing costs down a little, it is more common for other manufacturing methods to be able to dramatically lower the cost of manufacture for higher volumes. An example of this would be vacuum forming, injection moulding or CNC machining.

Another current disadvantage for 3D printing a part would be the overall size of the part you could manufacture. Although 3D printers are constantly evolving and improving, the size of bed available to print on can still be relatively small and can restrict which of your parts you may want to manufacture by 3D printing.

8. What is 3D printing most commonly used for?

There are many applications where 3D printing is used such as:

The medical industry printing valves, organs, prosthetics and using 3D printing to print intricate medical devices and surgical instruments. You can now even have 3D printed dentures, made to fit your gums perfectly.

Construction projects such as 3D printing a whole house or structure, crating flamboyant bridges and architectural pieces.

The film industry where parts of film sets or the people and creatures in the films themselves have been 3D printed.

There are footwear companies 3D printing the soles of high performance sports shoes for better support and performance.

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