Monday, April 18, 2016
3D Printing: An Introduction
If you have a computer and internet access, chances are you have heard of the term 3D Printing. But what exactly is it and what can you do with it? What kinds of materials can you print with it? And how the heck does it work? Is it even something regular folks can work with? Well, today, I am here to take you on a journey down the deep, dark rabbit hole that is 3D Printing.
I first learned about 3D printing by seeing ads on the internet a few years ago. As an electronics technician, IT professional, and a lover of all things mechanical I was intrigued by the concept of the 3D printing machine. You can literally create just about anything you could ever desire within the size limitations of the machine being used. I never spent too much thought on it because I was absolutely certain that the current price point was way beyond my reach. At the time they were running anywhere from $1000.00 and up. The larger, industrial applications with the ability to print larger objects were well over $5000.00
As a father of two on a tight budget, I was a bit envious of them and their ability to purchase such expensive things without much care. But then I learned what they bought. It wasn’t an off-the-shelf printer. They had purchased a kit containing all the parts needed to build their own printer.
After much debate and pricing my options, I decided to go with the same vendor that they had purchased their kits through. That vendor was Folger Technologies. I purchased their aluminum framed 2020 Prusa i3 kit for $270 (almost 1/3 the cost of the low end pre-assembled models).
Since purchasing, assembling, calibrating, upgrading, re-calibrating, and doing it all over again, I have learned a lot. I know my printer inside and out. If something goes wrong I know exactly where to look to start troubleshooting. I have made several little toys as well as functional upgrade parts for my printer. I have made gifts for friends and family, models, and have even designed and printed an electronic cigarette box mod.
My printer has come a very long way since my very first print and I can't wait to see just how much I can do with it. Now that you have a little bit of a background as to how I found my printer, let’s move on and look a little deeper into what 3D printing actually is.
To really get to know what 3D printing is, you need to know where it came from and why. 3D printing has actually been around for quite a while now though it’s only become available to the consumer in more recent years.
3D printing is known as Additive Manufacturing (or AM). AM is the process of adding material to a workspace to create an object that has not only length and width but also depth.
Woodworking, for example, would require the artist or manufacturer to remove material from a larger piece of wood until it looked the way the person or company intended. Additive manufacturing increases the amount of material used until the intended end result is achieved.
The earliest form of 3D printing came about in the early 1980s. I will spare you the details for now but will go a little more in depth in a later post (you can read the wiki if you want more information in the time being). There were several patents filed on several types of designs that lead to the modern 3D printers that are in use today. In the early 2010s 3D printing really took off and became what we know today.
The concept of 3D printing isn’t much different than the ink and paper printers that are used by nearly everyone on the face of the earth today. Ink and paper printers lay down different colors of ink on a sheet of paper in a single layer to achieve an end product. That end product is usually a document or picture.
3D printers don’t use ink but use other types of materials such as plastics and metals. These materials are laid down on the print surface in successive layers to create a 3 dimensional object. If you look closely at a 3D printed object, you can see each individual layer in the material.
3D printing has many different applications. It can be used to create functional prosthetics, prototypes for manufacturing on a larger scale, models and toys, and even functional parts and products.
It has even been said that 3D printing is slated to create a 3rd industrial revolution in which the end user will do the majority of their own manufacturing instead of purchasing mass produced parts from vendors.
If this post has piqued your interest, than you are going to want to check back often. This is the first post of many in the 3D printing series I plan to share.
I will take you through a more in depth explanation of how a 3D printer works, how to choose the printer that’s right for you, how to choose your printing material based on your specific applications, and even building, calibrating, upgrading, and maintaining a DIY 3D printer.
If you've discovered 3D printing already, I'd love to hear from you in comments - what uses have you found for it so far?