This is a relatively new technology but you surely have heard about 3d printers.
3D printers are able to print in three dimensions. That is to say, they can print objects like the ‘2D” printers, e.g. the paper printers could print two-dimensional sheets of paper.
Of course, they cannot print anything but year after year, their capacities become more and more important.
In what follows, we will introduce you to the fascinating world of the machines that can literally “print” objects from an abstract representation of them (eg: a file)
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All through the ages, humanity has always dreamed of being able to reproduce objects and multiply them – as by magic, without the need for a complicated individual assembly.
In fact, making duplicate objects appear almost instantly is a recurrent fantasy and science-fiction theme.
Here we are, 3D printing is making almost that old dream come true and year after year, 3d printing becomes more and more sophisticated and can finally reproduce even the most difficult objects.
In the ’50s, the science-fiction author Raymond F. Jones described a “molecular spray” in a story named “tools of the trade” and published by the famous Astounding Science Fiction magazine.
This is the first known reference to a 3d printer in the literature.
In a French-Belgium comic book ‘Spirou- The small formats’ published in 1960, a savant named the Count of Champignac creates a machine that can reproduce any object as an ultra-realistic miniature just by using a rotative scan.
When applied to humans, e.g. for doing “3d selfies” the character suffers (temporarily) of a huge psychological shock.
Until the 80’s the possibility of automatized reproduction of objects using chemical systems was largely a science-fiction and anticipation theme. But in 1981, for the first time, the first realistic approach towards 3d printing appeared.
As far as we know, the first record of 3d printing technologies dates from 1981, when the Japanese inventor Hideo Kodama created and registered a process by which ultraviolet lights were used with polymers in order to automatically build objects.
This is now known as the stereolithography process.
Bill Masters is a US entrepreneur who has pioneered the 3d printing technology and filled the patent ‘US 4665492’, as early as 1984, which is now considered as the origin of 3d printing technology.
Bill Masters is deeply linked with the history and development of 3d printing and it’s maybe not too exaggerated to call him the “father of all 3d printers’. That engineer started his career as a kayak shop and produced special types of kayak.
Then, at some point, he became interested in the possibility of producing automatically parts for his small boats and invented several ways of doing it.
Masters started in the ’80s by introducing 3d technologies in some CAD conferences but found little success in interesting the audience.
He then created a company named Perception Systems (renamed a few years later to Ballistic Particle Manufacturing) which launched the personal modeler 2100 in 1996, 4 years after the creation of the company.
The Personal Modeler 2100 used a CAD system incorporated so to create any sort of shapes by using droplets of plastic. The idea was to “shoot” quantities of thin plastic and control the direction, e.g using Stereolithography.
Bill masters shipped around 16 prototypes of the modeler but had to focus on his growing kayak business and then stopped to be active in the area of 3d printing.
S.Scott Crump invented and commercialized from 1989 to 1992 Fused Deposition Modeling, which is a 3d printing technique using plastic extrusion.
1983: Carl Deckard develops prototypes of the first Selective laser sintering (SLS) technologies.
1987: Larry Hornbeck develops DLP printing machines
In 1993 was created the Solidscape inkjet 3d printer. That printer was using a polymer jet.
In 1995. The Fraunhofer laboratories created a 3d printing based on selective laser melting.
In 1997 Arcam AB created the EBM technique.
After the year 2000, 3d printing technologies were intensively developed and many new systems appeared exponentially. New materials were used, metalworking techniques became also more varied and the filament industry became very active in 3d printing.
In 2012, 3d printers able to print with a wide range of plastics were unveiled by Filabot.
In 2014 a demonstration of 3d printing of electronic circuits was realized by Cook & Tentzeris.
Of course, this is just an overview of the rich and recent history of 3d printing technology.
There are around 9 different fundamental types of techniques used for 3d printing. But techniques evolve month after month and new models using new techniques (like arc welding) appear all the time.
This is the most common form of 3d printing. Basically, a platform lifts a share inside a bath of liquid resin. The resin becomes solidified by the action of a laser beam.
The process is relatively simple. The user creates a model of the object using the STL format. STL is the native file format for stereolithography. The STL file is sliced into parallel plans (layers).
Each parallel plan is then processed by the SLA machine through the laser beam. Once the laser beam has functioned long enough the liquid resin will solidify and create a layer of the shape.
Then the platform lifts the shape (usually from 0.002 to 0.015 inch ) to create the next layer and so on until all the layers are processed.
SLA machines can produce very accurate models in just a few hours. That sort of machine is generally used by hobbyists who wish to create fine models with realistic details.
There are generally additional processes (oven, bath) to solidify more and remove excess resins.
Here are a few SLA printers machines:
|ANET N4(various models)||300$ – 1000$+ (depending on the model)|
|CREATBOT F160 FDM 3D PRINTER||$1199|
|DUPLICATOR D7 PLUS RESIN PRINTER||$479|
|ANYCUBIC Photon Zero||$169|
|Form 2 – SLA 3D printer||$3,500|
|ProtoFab SLA800 DLC||Upon request (to the manufacturer)|
DLP is a very ancient 3d printing and dates from the 80s. DLP is very similar to SLA because it also uses liquid polymers that will solidify under the action of a source of light, but instead of using a laser/UV beam, DLP will use arc lamps.
The main interest is speed because an important source of lights makes a resin to harden in a few seconds only.
Here are a few DLP printers machines:
|ZORTRAX INKSPIRE DLP 3D PRINTER||$2,699|
|XYZPRINTING NOBEL DLP 1.0A RESIN PRINTER||$ 1,099|
|Anycubic Photon S||$369|
This 3d printing technique also known as Fused Filament Fabrication is using thermoplastic filaments.
The 3d model is sliced into layers, which are all parallel plans.
The technique produces a fine framework by using melt extrusion (layer by layer).
Typically, an FDM machine will build the object gradually by adding filaments to each layer.
There are a lot of filaments that can be used for 3d printing and they will give various results in terms of shape, look & feel, and resistance:
The vast variety of filaments implies various uses like parts for machines, dental applications, tooling, mechanical parts, or even food packaging.
Here are a few FDM printers machines:
|Geeetech A20T Mix-color FDM 3D Printer||$915|
|Prusa Mini Original – FDM 3D printer kit||$ 349|
|XVICO 3d printer FDM||$209|
|Sculptor Industrial FDM 3D Printing||$2100|
SLS is a 3D printing technique which is using high power CO2 lasers in order to fuse particles in order to form a given shape.
The particles are in fact powdered metal material, e.g. metal turned into a fine powder. They can also be Nylon powder or Glass powder.
A head fills each layer with particles that are tightened to the object by the laser.
Once a layer has been achieved, the machine moves to the next layer, and so on.
Here are a few SLS printers machines:
SLS machines are very costly machines, usually reserved for industrial usage, and the rare ‘affordable’ models are above $10,000
|Promaker P1000||$100,000 – $250,000|
|Sintering LISA pro||$17,400|
|Natural robotics VIT SLS 3D Printer||$12.900|
|Norge Ice1 Desktop SLS Printer||$13,000|
It has many similarities with SLS (in fact it is a subcategory of SLS) but The SLM process is able to fully melt the metal, unlike SLS.
It can produce resistant metallic pieces with a lot of complex details, holes, etc, and as such it is used for special industries such as aerospace research for instance.
Its use is reserved for industrial applications and the 3d SLM printers are extremely expensive.Note: you may find a comprehensive list of metal 3d printing manufacturers here.
Here are a few SLM printers machines:
SLM machines are extremely expensive and can reach millions of $. There are just a few manufacturers such as AG or EOS who can produce them.
|AG SLM 125||Upon request (to the manufacturer)|
|Shining 3D SLM EP-M250||$390,000|
|EOS P 770||> $500,000Upon request (to the manufacturer)|
EBM is not very different from SBM but it is using the powder bed fusion technique.
EMB will use a high-power electron beam in a vacuum chamber rather than the CO2 laser to melt the particles together and form the shape.
Here are a few EBM printers machines:
EBM machines are extremely expensive(same as the SLM machines)
|General Electrics Arcam EBM Spectra||Upon request (to the manufacturer)|
|Arcam Q20||Upon request (to the manufacturer)|
LOM offers rapid prototyping by using layers of plastic or papers which are fused together using the combined effect of heat and pressure.
Here is represented the main steps of the LOM process:
1: foil (paper/plastic)
2: foil goes into a roller and is heated
3: A laser beam cut the shape to form the layer
4: A prism directs the laser (5) to cut the right shape according to the STL model
6/7: The platform moves by 1/16 inch to form the next layer
8: wastes are removed
=> Iterate process until shape is completed
LOM is used by several professions like Architects etc, because the materials are inexpensive and because the printing is quick.
Here are a few LOM printers machines:
|SOLIDO SD 300LOM||$9,950|
|MCOR MATRIX 300+||$10,000-$50,000(upon request to the manufacturer)|
BJ technology uses two materials: the gypsum, a powder-based material, and a bonding agent that will reach with powder to ‘solidify’ it.
The bonding agent bonds the particle of the gypsum to create the desired shape.
A head will project the bonding agent into a powder bed so as to form the shape.
As usual, a platform moves the object to the next layer until the last layer is completed.
Objects printed with BJ do not have a big resolution but can be printed in many colors. Indeed it is enough to change the source of the bonding material, thus allowing to use many ‘cartridges’ of different colors. (note that Color jet Printing also allows that in a better way)
Interesting enough, the powder can be metal, ceramic, sands, or plastics
Here are a few BJ printers machines:
|ExOne M-Flex metal Binder||Starting from $450,000|
|General Electrics Project H1||n/a|
Material Jetting is a group of techniques that can be seen as ‘wax casting’. It works with heated wax in a similar way to Binder jetting. Its use is general for dental professionals or Jewellers.
Here are a few MJ printers machines:
|Mimaki 3DUJ-553 UV LED||$200,000|
|HP HP Jet Fusion 3D 4200||$200,000|
Finally, let us look at the area of application of 3d printing. The area of application is extraordinarily huge and many different industries are currently using 3d printing.
3d selfies are a new type of selfies. They consist of creating an immediate 3d printed replica of one or more persons.
The 3d selfie can consist of the entire body or only the face. This astonishing application is made possible because of the development of handheld scanners.
Using 3d printers for the building of parts for automotive is a very interesting application.
No need to look for days of spare parts. It can be printed into a nearby shop. All that is needed is the 3d model of the part which can be downloaded from a central repository!
Of course, this can create safety problems if the 3d printing shop is not authorized to print such parts.
Parts can be made with polymers or even made with metals.
Hobbysm has found in 3d printing a very important booster. Because of the nature of hobbyists who – usually – like to build all sorts of maquettes and prototypes, 3d printing appears as a revolution.
Note that great inventors like Tesla were often viewed as hobbyists 🙂
Here are some of the key benefits of 3d printing for hobbyist:
Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts like to build realistic maps of their universe. Before 3d printing, they had to do this by hand, painting, and gluing plastic pieces that cost lots of money.
Now with 3d printing, they can freely download designs of fantasy maps and print them in a nearby 3d printing shop or even using their own printers.
Rapid prototyping is a key application of 3d printing in the R&D process and allows many sci-tech companies to quickly and inexpensively test their designs (same as hobbyists :-))
Food printing is one of the most unexpected applications of 3d printing. It has a special interest from NASA who wants to know if food could be printed in space stations.
Note that food can be 3d printed with ingredients. For example, cheese, rice, bacon, etc could be used as powder. From now on, food 3d printing works well with pastry for example.
One of the benefits of 3d printing food is that nutritional food could be turned into powder-like .. insects for example and then printed so to give it a very attractive aspect.
In case of worldwide problems to supply food to the population, this may be a key asset.
3d printers can print ceramics so they work well in the dental industry but they technically can be used to produce a wide range of medical devices like masks, stethoscopes, surgical instruments, etc.
In remote areas, this may be an asset because all that is needed is a 3d printer, the material, and the 3d models.
This has especially an interest in terms of the prosthesis.
3d printing allows home developers to build 3d printing homes. No, it’s a reality. There is now a growing community of 3d models for printing your own house.
APIS cor offers as well 3d printed houses and have ‘printed’ a few demo houses in the USA.
There are also implications with quick military buildings like bunkers or temporarily military bases. This has also implications for the building of houses in extremely remote areas (Taiga, Antarctica) or even in outer space planets.
Building computers with 3d printing is now possible, especially that there are more and more ways to build circuits with 3d printing.
3D printing computer cases are an immediate application of 3d printing but beyond this, it is believed that sooner or later an entire computer could be 3d printed. However, for now, it is still anticipation.
To conclude this presentation of 3d printing, we unveil some of the marvels created with 3d printers as artistic sculptures only.
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