3d Printing

3D Printing Services

3D Printing Services

What is 3D printing?

3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file.

The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process, an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object.

How does 3D printing work?

It all starts with making a virtual design of the object you want to create. This virtual design is, for instance, a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file. This CAD file is created using a 3D modeling application or with a 3D scanner (to copy an existing object). A 3D scanner can make a 3D digital copy of an object.

3D scanners
3D scanners use different technologies to generate a 3D model. Examples are time-of-flight, structured / modulated light, volumetric scanning and much more.

Recently, companies like Microsoft and Google enabled their hardware to perform 3D scanning, for example, Microsoft’s Kinect. In the near future digitizing real objects into 3D models will become as easy as taking a picture. Future versions of smartphones will probably have integrated 3D scanners.
Currently, prices of 3D scanners range from expensive professional industrial devices to $30 DIY scanners anyone can make at home.

3D modeling software
3D modeling software also comes in many forms. There’s industrial grade software that costs thousands a year per license, but also free open source software, like Blender, for instance.
When you are a beginner and a number of choices are a bit overwhelming, we recommend starting with Tinkercad. Tinkercad has a free version and it works in browsers that support WebGL, for instance, Google Chrome. They offer beginner lessons and has a built in option to get your object printed via various 3D printing services.

When you have a 3D model, the next step is to prepare it in order to make it 3D printable.

From 3D model to 3D Printer

You will have to prepare a 3D model before it is ready to be 3D printed. This is what they call slicing. Slicing is dividing a 3D model into hundreds or thousands of horizontal layers and needs to be done with software.
Sometimes a 3D model can be sliced from within a 3D modeling software application. It is also possible that you are forced to use a certain slicing tool for a certain 3D printer.
When the 3D model is sliced, you are ready to feed it to your 3D printer. This can be done via USB, SD or wifi. It really depends on what brand and type 3D Printer you have.
When a file is uploaded in a 3D printer, the object is ready to be 3D printed layer by layer. The 3D printer reads every slice (2D image) and creates a three-dimensional object.

How to learn 3D Printing

You could start your journey in learning 3D printing by following this Coursera course. It costs around $350 USD.
For the same price, however, you can choose to assemble your own 3D Printer kit. This way you’ll gradually learn as the keywords which will help you repairing / adjusting your 3D printer when necessary.
If you are interested in going this route, please read our article about cheap 3D printer kits. This article explains what to look for when you’re comparing these kits.

Processes and technologies

Not all 3D printers use the same technology. There are several ways to print and all those available are additive, differing mainly in the way layers are build to create the final object.
Some methods use melting or softening material to produce the layers. Selective laser sintering (SLS) and fused deposition modeling (FDM) are the most common technologies using this way of 3D printing. Another method is when we talk about curing a photo-reactive resin with a UV laser or another similar power source one layer at a time. The most common technology using this method is called stereolithography (SLA).

To be more precise: since 2010, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) group “ASTM F42 – Additive Manufacturing”, developed a set of standards that classify the Additive Manufacturing processes into 7 categories  according to Standard Terminology for Additive Manufacturing Technologies. These seven processes are:

More About 3D Printing

Vat Photopolymerization

A 3D printer based on the Vat Photopolymerization method has a container filled with photopolymer resin which is then hardened with UV light source.

Vat photopolymerization schematics. Image source: lboro.ac.uk

The most commonly used technology in this processes is Stereolithography (SLA). This technology employs a vat of liquid ultraviolet curable photopolymer resin and an ultraviolet laser to build the object’s layers one at a time. For each layer, the laser beam traces a cross-section of the part pattern on the surface of the liquid resin. Exposure to the ultraviolet laser light cures and solidifies the pattern traced on the resin and joins it to the layer below.

After the pattern has been traced, the SLA’s elevator platform descends by a distance equal to the thickness of a single layer, typically 0.05 mm to 0.15 mm (0.002″ to 0.006″). Then, a resin-filled blade sweeps across the cross-section of the part, re-coating it with fresh material. On this new liquid surface, the subsequent layer pattern is traced, joining the previous layer. The complete three-dimensional object is formed by this project. Stereolithography requires the use of supporting structures which serve to attach the part to the elevator platform and to hold the object because it floats in the basin filled with liquid resin. These are removed manually after the object is finished.

This technique was invented in 1986 by Charles Hull, who also at the time founded the company, 3D Systems.

Animation of the SLA process

Other technologies using Vat Photopolymerization are the new ultrafast Continuous Liquid Interface Production or CLIP and marginally used older Film Transfer Imaging and Solid Ground Curing.

Material Jetting

In this process, the material is applied in droplets through a small diameter nozzle, similar to the way a common inkjet paper printer works, but it is applied layer-by-layer to a build platform making a 3D object and then hardened by UV light.

Material Jetting schematics. Image source: custompartnet.com

Here you can see presentation of Stratasys’ Objet500 Connex 3D printers that use their proprietary Triple-Jetting technology where you can clearly see the print heads and UV light:

Binder Jetting

With binder jetting two materials are used: powder base material and a liquid binder. In the build chamber, the powder is spread in equal layers and binder is applied through jet nozzles that “glue” the powder particles in the shape of a programmed 3D object. The finished object is “glued together” by binder remains in the container with the powder base material. After the print is finished, the remaining powder is cleaned off and used for 3D printing the next object. This technology was first developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1993 and in 1995 Z Corporation obtained an exclusive license.

The following video shows a high-end binder jetting based 3D printer, the ExOne M-Flex.  This 3D printer uses metal powder and curing after the binding material is applied.

Material Extrusion

The most commonly used technology in this process is Fused deposition modeling (FDM)

Fused deposition modeling (FDM), a method of rapid prototyping: 1 – nozzle ejecting molten material (plastic), 2 – deposited material (modeled part), 3 – controlled movable table. Image source: Wikipedia, made by user Zurek’s under CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

The FDM technology works using a plastic filament or metal wire which is unwound from a coil and supplying material to an extrusion nozzle which can turn the flow on and off. The nozzle is heated to melt the material and can be moved in both horizontal and vertical directions by a numerically controlled mechanism, directly controlled by a computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software package. The object is produced by extruding melted material to form layers as the material hardens immediately after extrusion from the nozzle. This technology is most widely used with two plastic filament material types: ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) and PLA (Polylactic acid) but many other materials are available ranging in properties from wood filed, conductive, flexible etc.

FDM was invented by Scott Crump in the late 80’s. After patenting this technology he started the company Stratasys in 1988. The software that comes with this technology automatically generates support structures if required. The machine dispenses two materials, one for the model and one for a disposable support structure.

The term fused deposition modeling and its abbreviation to FDM are trademarked by Stratasys Inc. The exactly equivalent term, fused filament fabrication (FFF), was coined by the members of the RepRap project to give a phrase that would be legally unconstrained in its use.

Animation of the FDM process

Powder Bed Fusion

The most commonly used technology in this processes is Selective laser sintering (SLS)

SLS system schematic. Image source: Wikipedia from user Materialgeeza under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

This technology uses a high power laser to fuse small particles of plastic, metal, ceramic or glass powders into a mass that has the desired three-dimensional shape. The laser selectively fuses the powdered material by scanning the cross-sections (or layers) generated by the 3D modeling program on the surface of a powder bed. After each cross-section is scanned, the powder bed is lowered by one layer thickness. Then a new layer of material is applied on top and the process is repeated until the object is completed.

All untouched powder remains as it is and becomes a support structure for the object. Therefore there is no need for any support structure which is an advantage over SLS and SLA. All unused powder can be used for the next print. SLS was developed and patented by Dr. Carl Deckard at the University of Texas in the mid-1980s, under the sponsorship of DARPA.

Animation of the SLS process

Sheet Lamination

Sheet lamination involves material in sheets which are bound together with external force. Sheets can be metal, paper or a form of a polymer. Metal sheets are welded together by ultrasonic welding in layers and then CNC milled into a proper shape. Paper sheets can be used also, but they are glued by adhesive glue and cut in shape by precise blades. A leading company in this field is Mcor Technologies.

A simplified model of ultrasonic sheet metal 3D printing. Image source: Wikipedia from user Mmrjf3 shared under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Here is a video with a metal sheet 3D printer by Fabrisonic that uses additive manufacturing paired with CNC milling:

… and here is an overview of Mcor 3D printers that use standard A4 paper sheets:

Directed Energy Deposition

This process is mostly used in the high-tech metal industry and in rapid manufacturing applications. The 3D printing apparatus is usually attached to a multi-axis robotic arm and consists of a nozzle that deposits metal powder or wire on a surface and an energy source (laser, electron beam or plasma arc) that melts it, forming a solid object.

Direct Energy Deposition with metal powder and laser melting. Image source: Merlin project

Sciaky is a major tech company in this area and here is their video presentation showing electron beam additive manufacturing:

Examples & applications of 3D printing

Applications include rapid prototyping, architectural scale models & maquettes, healthcare (3D printed prosthetics and 3D printing with human tissue) and entertainment (e.g. film props).

Other examples of 3D printing would include reconstructing fossils in paleontology, replicating ancient artifacts in archaeology, reconstructing bones and body parts in forensic pathology and reconstructing heavily damaged evidence acquired from crime scene investigations.

3D printing industry

The worldwide 3D printing industry is expected to grow from $3.07B in revenue in 2013 to $12.8B by 2018 and exceed $21B in worldwide revenue by 2020. As it evolves, 3D printing technology is destined to transform almost every major industry and change the way we live, work, and play in the future.
Source: Wohlers Report 2015

Medical industry

The outlook for the medical use of 3D printing is evolving at an extremely rapid pace as specialists are beginning to utilize 3D printing in more advanced ways. Patients around the world are experiencing improved quality of care through 3D printed implants and prosthetics never before seen.

Contact Us For More Information On Printing

Below you’ll find a short explanation of all of seven processes for 3D printing:

  1. Vat Photopolymerization
  2. Material Jetting
  3. Binder Jetting
  4. Material Extrusion
  5. Powder Bed Fusion
  6. Sheet Lamination
  7. Directed Energy Deposition