What is a 3D printer and how it fits in our lives today?

By Margarita Chichyan

Introduction

In our ever changing and fast-paced world, we need to keep up with the latest technologies so we can be competitive in the modern world as well as to make our lives easier, processes faster, and simply be in the loop of today’s realities. 

You have surely heard of Adidas making 3D printed sneakers or other companies using recycled materials to make clothes, shows, as well as jewellery and many other things. 

Whether we want it or not, this new technology has entered our lives and is here to stay, as 3D printing provides not only innovation but also aids in environmental issues, as it can use recycled materials.  

What is a 3D printer?

For those of you who don’t know this technology, and never heard of it before, let us give you a bit of a background in this technology and show how far it has come in a considerably short period. 

3D printing, otherwise known as additive manufacturing, is a process of making 3-dimensional  objects from a CAD/digital 3D model.

So simply put, a 3D printer, is a printer that prints objects that have three dimensions – the depth, the height and the width. 

A bit of history

Additive manufacturing or 3D printers were invented not so long ago. The first concept of 3D printing technology was laid out in 1974, and as early as the 1980s, the first 3D printer was built. 

The first-ever manufactured 3D printer used Stereolithography method, or simply SLA, which is basically using a liquid resin and UV laser to build the object layer-by-layer. It was created in 1983 by Chuck Hull. 

Later on, many other different technologies have been created, to accommodate different needs and provide a variety of materials.

How does a 3D printer work?

3D printed rocket

As we have mentioned before, a 3D printer is a machine that prints objects, rather than flat images on things.

It is also called additive manufacturing, as the objects are printed layer-by-layer, adding the material as they go, rather than all at once. 

Many different materials are used in this technology and called a filament. Each 3D printer filament may be different, as technologies of printing differ. 

There is a great variety of 3D printer UK has to offer due to the different technologies available, and each of them brings something unique to the table. 

3D Printing Technologies

Here are all the main technologies used, some of which are more suitable for home and others for industries, however knowing what is out there will help you in the decision of how to choose the right 3D printer for your specific needs. 

  • Stereolithography (SLA) 

As stated earlier, this is the first and oldest method of making 3D printer designs, using liquid raisin and UV ray to solidify the plastic, building the model layer-by-layer.  

  • Digital Light Processing (DLP)

This method is very close to the previous one, with one significant difference, being the light source. In SLA there is a UV Laser, and in DLP there is a projector, which trajectory is controlled by mirrors. 

  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)

This is one of the most commonly used technologies for commercial 3D printers. This method uses plastic filaments to build structures through heating them and putting them through an extruder that builds the object on a heatbed. 

  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

This process is very similar to the SLA, but instead of liquid resin, it uses powdered material that is later on sintered into the needed shape in subsequent layers by a laser. 

  •  Selective Laser Melting (SLM)

Just like the previous method, this one also uses powdered material, but unlike it, it melts it all the way with a laser to put it in the desired shape with a laser. 

  • Electronic Beam Melting (EBM)

This method is very similar to the previous one, with one big difference – instead of a laser, it uses an electron beam to melt the filament into the desired shape. Both technologies of SLM and EMB are powerful enough to melt the powdered metal. 

  • Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM)

This is a rapid way of 3D prototyping. This technology fuses together layers of the material, that is each coated with adhesive using pressure and heat, and then cuts the object into needed shape with a knife or a laser.  

How can we use a 3D printer?

This technology, as you can see, is very diverse, has many 3D printer models available, and depending on what you want to do with it, can accommodate any needs, no matter how complex and varied. 

The 3D printer has found its way into our lives on so many levels, that it is a very common and normal aspect of many people’s lives. 

Let us give you an idea of where 3D printer UK has to offer is used today, some of which will surely surprise you. 

Industrial use

This one is probably the most anticipated use, as any technology is mostly created initially for industrial use, and then later it enters the everyday lives of consumers. 

There are many different industries that today have adopted this technology and are using it very successfully to innovate old processes, become more competitive with new technologies and bring something new to the table, simplifying otherwise complicated processes of production. 

Medical Industry

Wouldn’t it be amazing, to be able to save lives through organ transplant, without having to wait for human organs in huge lines? Just take a tissue sample, 3D print the needed organ and implant it. 

Sounds like a scene from a futuristic sci-fi film, doesn’t it?

Well, that reality is closer than you think.

In the past rears, hearings aids, and hip replacements have been widely 3D printed. 

Moreover, the dental industry has benefited a lot from this technology, with mainly 3D printing dental moulds, dentures and crowns. 

Automotive Industry

This industry has taken 3D printing technology and widely uses it for a while now, printing anything from spare and end-use parts to tools and fixtures. 

3D printers made the on-demand manufacturing possible, which has lowered the costs of design and production and putting an end to stock problems. 

The racing industry, which is also a part of Automotive as a whole, uses 3D printer UK has to offer to make their cars more competitive by printing the needed parts with new and innovative materials, making the parts lighter and more rigid, thus giving the car advantage of a lighter weight, consequently providing it with more speed. 

Aviation Industry

Much like the automotive industry, aviation is using 3D printers to make parts of planes, like fuel nozzles. Other papers used both onboard and as a part of the aircraft are being 3D printed, lowering their cost and increasing efficiency. This fact is due to the new materials used, which makes the parts lighter and more durable at the same time. 

Aerospace Industry

This industry took this technology to the next level, making rocket engines and parts on a 3D printer. What has been said before, is also true in this industry, as in materials and the production speed has been improved, making manufacturing father, much more waste officiant, guaranteeing lighter and stronger parts as an outcome. 

There have also been “crazy” ideas floating around, like those from the University of Ottawa. Their researches have proposed a concept of 3D printers that can self-replicate and that are able to process lunar soil. 

Of course, the latter seems like something from a fantasy novel now. Still, technological progress has been tremendous in the past decades when it comes to 3D printing technology and 3D printer software so that it might be our very normal reality in the next decade. 

Construction Industry 

There has been a great development in the construction industry with innovative 3D printing technologies. 

It has been possible for a while now to print parts of buildings, like doors, walls and even floors, as well as full houses. 

There are even full buildings being 3D printed, the first one of which went up in Denmark, but the biggest, of course, in Dubai.  

A lot of the 3D printed houses have been constructed in the 3rd world countries, as it is much more affordable housing combined with high-speed construction time, as you can import already printed parts, and simply assemble them on sight. 

Consumer Industry 

The footwear, accessories, clothes, jewellery, you name it, use 3D printers for mainstream, large scale manufacturing and the numbers look very promising. 

Eyewear, for example, is estimated to become a 3.4 billion-dollar industry by 2028, based solely on the 3D printing technology.  

Adidas and other companies are already making their footwear using 3D printers. 

The use of 3D printers is only predicted to grow, as the production quality increases and the investments and manufacturing time decreases. 

Today, you can even buy a 3D printed reproduction of famous paintings, that will look much more realistic, than a printed reproduction, as it adds texture to it, making it more real-like.  

Home use

As much as production industries have adopted the 3D printing technology and mastered it, home use of 3D printers is also on the rise. 

There are no real limits to the imagination when it comes to the growing minds of our younger generation. 

If your kids are interested in making their own things, rather than conforming to the realities, we have today. If you want to encourage their creativity and curiosity, there is no better way then getting them a 3D printer. 

There are ones that are very affordable, simple in use and are ideal for home use, even leaving your teenagers with it unsupervised, won’t be a big problem. There are ones that are compatible with organic filaments and do not emit any harmful fumes or other substances. 

You can have 3D printed toys right out of your kid’s mind. Not only that, but you can also easily have a vase in the exact shape you want, a keyholder, a bowl, cell phone or tablet holder and so on. 

They are of course smaller in size, compatible with mostly only plastic filaments and only some support multi-colour printing but are affordable, have easy-to-use 3D printer software and can support the needs of creating toys, moulds, models and such. 

Educational use 

As the students are the ones that will lead industries tomorrow, create innovation and only better all the processes and change standards, they must be familiar with the most modern technologies and know them in and out, to be able to invent, innovate and modernise production. 

3D printers are widely used in the classroom, especially for dental, architectural, engineering and other departments’ students, that need to test their theories, make models to showcase and make sure their theories work in the real world. 

The days that students had to make their models by hand in the lab is over. Now, creating the CAD model and printing it has enabled for shorter design time, easily troubleshot blueprints and fast created prototypes. 

Also, knowing the software and tools, which needs to be used for such new technology as 3D printers, is crucial, as they need to create the models right in the software, and not waste time transforming the paper blueprint into the digital world. 

Parting words 

As you can see, 3D printing has a vast potential that is important not for the big production industries, but also for the small, everyday uses thighs, that, hopefully, will make our lives easier and more fun, giving a personal spin on everyday things, like printing a phone case of your design, printing a key chain as a present and so on. 

The effects of technology are controversial at times, and each has its pros and cons, but 3D printing, has definitely revolutionised the way we see materials, manufacturing processes and has enabled us to set ambitious goals and reach them, as there are numerous materials and printing technologies, that can accommodate even the most demanding individuals. 

Thus, do not be afraid or reserved to introduce a 3D printer to your child, or students, as this technology is here to stay and make sure they are armed with the necessary knowledge to flourish using it in the future. 

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