3D Printing and different technologies involved in it


3D Printing has been touted as the next big thing as far as printing technology is concerned. However, it could be too early to predict such a possibility so soon. The technology has been evolving right now and needs to go through more development to find widespread use. We will find out how this technology works and the different technologies used in it.

Most of you might have heard of 3D printing technology. There has been a great deal of hoopla going on what is called the next biggest advancement in the Printing technology. The method uses many technologies. However, speculations apart - one should note that the 3D printing is still at a nascent stage of development and may need to go through a series of improvements before it can be commercially viable. We will look into what is 3D printing and what technologies are used in the concept.

3D Printing - What is it and how it works?

The process of 3D printing refers to taking a digital model of a 3D image in the form of a digital file and then converting it into an object. In the technology, different materials like metal, resin or ceramic are layered together one over the other till it forms a solid object. The technology is also known as Additive Manufacturing.

The 3D printing or the object is created by adding layers of the material one over the other and the final product is formed. There are many methods that are used to perform the 3D printing. But all of them will invariably require CAD (Computer Aided Design) files. These files instruct the 3D printer on how to layer the materials to model the object.

How does the 3D printing works? Well, that is something that can only be understood with the explanation of the different technologies involved in the process. Not all 3D printers use the same technology, but the end result is same. The process involves several steps.

First of all, we will need to design a 3D model. You can design it, or download it from some repository. Once that done, the file with 3D model should be converted to a G code. The programs like Slic3r are used to create G-code. The G-code is the computer language that communicates to the printer about its next move. As of now, the technology is still in its nascent stage and as such, only G code is used. However, several other languages are being developed which may eventually make the task more easier.

Now, as might have been clear to you, the type of material, design and model - you will need to choose different 3D printers. And the printing technology involved also varies based on those factors. The printer used for smartphone case may use a low budget printer while that used for some high end part will be expensive.

Technologies used in 3D printing

There are different technologies used in 3D printing. There are a few technologies that are on the verge of extinction now. A few new ones are making their presence felt. However, at this nascent stage of 3D printing technology, we may not be able to find the best method. Some of the widely used technologies have been described here

#1. Selective Laser Sintering

The technology makes use of Aluminium or other materials in the form of powder. The powdered material is sprayed on to the surface to be printed with the aid of a nozzle. These tiny powdered particles are fused together by using a laser. The material does not get wasted here. Powder in excess can later be vacuumed out which is reusable. The technology referred to as SLS finds wide spread usage in Aerospace applications and military hardware.

The technology suffers from a few limitations, though. It does not offer you a cleaner quality of surface finish. The final product so obtained cannot be stronger enough as it does not get rid of impurities. There are gaps left behind as a result of the inability of the laser to reach certain spaces. Besides, the initial cost of the technology too is a little on the higher side.

In spite of those drawbacks, the SLS technology finds good adaptation with its capability to support a wide range of materials. Moreover, it has been considered to be a reliable technology of 3D printing.

#2. Fuse Deposition Modelling

This is one of the popular methods of 3D printing or Additive printing as it also referred to. Unlike SLS technology outlined above, it can only use PLA or ABS plastics as the raw materials. The hot plastic is layered with the aid of a nozzle. Layers are deposited one above the other.
The FDM technology has some issues, though. If you use PLA plastic, the excess material can be reused. However, with the ABS - that is not a possibility. Thus, the FDM technology creates a lot of wastage.
Another drawback with the technology is the need for support when you are creating a model. It could be an issue at times.

The best part with the FDM technology is it is much inexpensive. It could be best suited for small homes with that price. Besides, with the larger parts involved, it is quite easier to maintain.

#3. Stereo Lithography

The technology uses Liquid resin as the raw material. The parts of the layers that need to be joined are hardened using UV laser. Remaining part of the object is left as the liquid.

The method finds good use in cases where smoother finishing is needed. Another advantage associated with SL technology is its speed of operation. Time consumed in building larger prototypes if you use the traditional methods is considerably reduced if you opt for the Stereo Lithography. But, yes - the costs involved are much high and that is exactly what causes just a selective use of the technology in spite of it being an effective one.

#4. Digital Light Processing

Unlike the methods featured above, DLP is one of the newer technologies. It is almost equivalent to the SL technology. The only difference between the two is the source of light used.

The objects made with the DLP technology are observed to have a smoother finish. Moreover, it needs lesser material in comparison to the SL technology, thus affects the costs involved in a more positive way. The wastage is very much less in DLP.

But, here are disadvantages associated there too . The technology cannot work with a wide variety of materials. There is also a limit to the thickness of the object that you can achieve this technology.

Outlined above are just a few technologies involved in 3D printing. There are many more technologies used and much more have been evolving.

Applications of 3D printing

Well, the technology had initially been used for prototyping. However, the things are changing for better. The 3D printing technology has been making inroads into the manufacturing of the final products. Practical almost all industries have been using it.

Medicine - This is one of the major fields that has benefitted most from the technology. Surgeons have always been fascinated with the 3D models of human organs. It gives them more intricate knowledge of the problems they have been working on. It works better than the 2D models or the computer images.

In recent times, there have been attempts to get 3D printed human organs like the liver. Hopefully, in the next 15 to 20 years we may see 3D printed organs transplanted.

Aerospace - Designing 3D printed components reduces the weight of the aircraft. That is why more importance is being paid to the development in that direction. Military researchers worldwide along with institutions like NASA have been turning to 3D printing.

Art - Artists will now be able to bring the ideas they have into a virtual reality by designing the virtual models. Thus, the creativity receives a big boost. The technology can also be much helpful in education by making it easier to understand the concepts better by visualising them physically.

There are many other applications that this new technology can offer. It has the capacity to get your custom components without the need for subcontracts or outsourcing. We may need to wait for a couple of years more to get a clear idea of the wider possibilities.

And finally....

Well, it is quite early to predict the exact effects and possibilities that are likely to be unleashed with 3D printing technology. It has been treated as the next big thing after the information technology. It will take at least a decade for the technology to reach that level. However, one thing is sure - we are definitely moving in that direction.


Article by Timmappa Kamat
Timmappa Kamat is a technology enthusiast. He has an active interest in newer technological developments. He is fond of new gizmos & gadgets. He loves to share his knowledge through tech-savvy websites as a freelancer. A Mechanical Engineer by profession, he is equally interested in blogging, with his own blog. He wants to carve a name for himself in blogging arena one day! If you need any clarifications about his articles,please respond here below or get in touch with him through his profile.

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