To many people, 3D printing is understood to be like the replicator from Star Trek: you enter some instructions into a computer, and your desired item is generated. In a sense, this is what roughly happens, and it’s certainly the fantasy goal of many 3D printing enthusiasts, but it also neglects many steps and, unfortunately, limitations of real life 3D printing.
There are many different forms of 3D printing. Some are what many of us think of as conventional 3D printing, where material is extruded layer by layer into the desired shape. Others work by sintering together layers out of a powder medium. There are still other types out there and many more in development. Why is this?
Different kinds of materials pose different challenges for 3D printing. 3D printed plastic needs to melt sufficiently to be extruded, but it needs to harden quickly enough not to deform as the printing process goes on. Metal has much higher temperatures to melt, added to its brittleness which can leave the resulting structures too weak to perform as components in stress-intensive parts. These kinds of issues hold true for any material we use in manufacturing, including rubber, wood, glass, and ceramics. Each has its own requirements for effective manufacturing and that is why there are different methods of 3D printing.
3D printing works off of computer models. A solidly designed model takes into account the nature of the material it will be printed in and the capabilities of the printer. If a feature is on the model, it is on the final product. If a feature is not on the model…well, with proper care, it will not be on the final product. This is because, as a 3D printer builds the product, it needs to ensure that it does not collapse under its own weight and therefore prints support structures to prevent that. These are typically very easy to remove in post-processing.
Post-processing is absolutely a requirement for all forms of 3D printing. This can range from processes as simple as sanding to ones that require more hardware like baking inside an oven. Post-processing helps a product achieve the desired appearance and structural integrity. 3D printing is not as simple (yet) as inputting some commands and getting your completed product right away.
Typically, 3D printing a single product layer-by-layer takes a few hours. The larger or more detailed a product is, the longer it will take to print. This is also true for finer layers.
That said, a printer will replicate exactly what the model displays every time it prints. It’s a great, cost-effective option for smaller runs. Other manufacturing techniques, such as casting, have a minimum amount that must be ordered to make the effort worth the money it takes to set up. With 3D printing, you can produce as few products as you want and it only requires the amount of material that you actually need.
This incredible technology has a lot to offer for hobbyists and businesses alike. At Jawstec, our expert staff can help you from the earliest design iterations to the finishing of the finished product. We pride ourselves on understanding the ins and outs of the 3D printing process and how best to use the technique’s many strengths. Contact us today for a quote!