Thursday, August 30, 2012

3D Printers Simply Amazing

For some weeks now I have been promising myself to see just what 3D printers are all about, because in all truth I didn't know the first thing about them.

And having spent the better part of yesterday afternoon glued to YouTube, I can say, now I know a little something of them, emphasis on the little.

But, as we say oop North, eeh bah gum! what a piece of kit!

Whether it's because I am a Toolmaker/Tooling Engineer myself that leaves me particularly impressed with this remarkable bit of innovation and technology, I don't really know. In a way I suppose it must, but do you have to be an engineer to appreciate this applied technology can make objects that otherwise would be impossible to manufacture, and I do mean impossible?

But it is the engineer in me that truly appreciates the 'one off' capabilities of such printers, being as they are, capable of producing prototypes or master models for a few hundred dollars, instead of  tens of thousands of dollars, if not more in certain cases.

I don't exaggerate when I quote such big numbers. 'One offs' are expensive, one offs of such complexity and tolerances as depicted in the clips below, would be prohibitively expensive. So expensive in actual fact, that many projects simply wouldn't get off the drawing board.

What I do need to do now however, is to go through the clips again in order that I might note and bring certain things to your attention. Not only that, the clips are all over the place at the moment, so they need to be sorted. Consider then for the moment, that I am still at the editing stage with this post, pop back later.

Editing complete, drive on!

What is 3D printing?
By Sebastian Anthony
January 25, 2012

3D printing is a method of manufacturing everything from shoes to jewelery, to guns and aerospace parts, using a computer-controlled printer. The fundamental rule of 3D printing is that it’s an additive manufacturing technique, unlike machining, turning, milling, and sawing which are subtractive.

While there are different kinds of 3D printing, all 3D objects are generally built out of layers. A 3D printer starts with the bottom layer, waits for it to dry or solidify, and then works its way up. This layering process differs depending on the printer and the material it works with — metal, plaster, polymer, resin — but it also depends on whether it’s an industrial or commercial 3D printer.

Industrial vs. commercial

While consumer- and small business-oriented 3D printing is only just taking off, mostly thanks to the MakerBot and RepRaps, 3D printing has been used in an industrial setting for 30 years. Industrial 3D printers tend to be very large and very expensive, but at the same time they are a lot faster than commercial printers. Some industrial printers can print with multiple nozzles at the same time, or even use metal (more on that later). For the most part, industrial printers are nearly always used for rapid prototyping (usually by architects, automakers), but sometimes 3D printed objects — especially in the case of metal objects — are used in final products.

Consumer-oriented 3D printers are cheaper, smaller, slower, and are usually lower resolution than their industrial counterparts. Consumer printers are still used for rapid prototyping, but they’re also used by people who just like the idea of printing stuff out. Generally, consumer printers use thermoplastic extrusion — i.e. it dribbles out tiny dots of melted plastic.

Different printing techniques

3D printing -- the original is on the left hand sideDepending on the material used, how many colors you want, the resolution you require, and how much money you’re willing to fork out, there are at least five popular 3D printing methods to choose from. Some are very similar, but some are really rather crazy (or brilliant).

Fused deposition modeling – The most common 3D printing method is fused deposition modeling (FDM). The raw material with this process is a spool of plastic or metal wire, which is melted and placed by the printer’s nozzle. It quickly hardens, and then the next layer can be added. As far as commercial printers are concerned (like the MakerBot), FDM always uses plastic wire (filament) and is usually called “thermoplastic deposition” in layman’s terms

Inkjet printing — Using special inks (resins and binders) it’s possible to build up a 3D model using a device that’s very similar to a home or office inkjet printer. Layer upon layer of resin and binder are added until an object is created. This is the only 3D printing process that allows for custom colors.

Selective laser sintering – Sintering is the process of creating solid objects from powders, and in the case of selective laser sintering (SLS) the powder can be metal, plastic, ceramic, or glass. Basically, SLS uses a pulsed laser to “draw” the desired cross-section. The powder fuses, and then then the laser forms the next layer on top. This is very much an industrial method, as it requires a rather strong laser.

Digital light processing – With DLP (yes, the same technology behind DLP projectors), a vat of liquid polymer is turned into a very strong solid by exposing it to light. Very high accuracy/resolution can be achieved with this technique — and again, this is an industrial method. Stereolithography is similar to DLP manufacturing, but a lot more expensive.

The others – Finally, there are a few 3D printing techniques that aren’t used extensively, but could be in the future. Resin can be cured using LEDs (similar to the DLP approach); 2-photon photopolymerization can be used to create ultra-small 3D-printed features; laminated object manufacturing uses bits of paper or card stuck together that are then cut out using a laser.

The future of 3D printing More

Below: Starting at the one minute mark, yer man picks up a manufactured sample that just about says all that needs saying. One doesn't need to be any kind of engineer to appreciate the sheer impossibility of manufacturing the product by any other means.

3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing technology where a three dimensional object is created by laying down successive layers of material. 3D printers are generally faster, more affordable and easier to use than other additive manufacturing technologies. 3D printers offer product developers the ability to print parts and assemblies made of several materials with different
mechanical and physical properties in a single build process. Advanced 3D printing technologies yield models that can serve as product prototypes.

Below: This HP sponsored clip highlights the (impossible) complexity of just what can be designed and printed.

The HP Designjet Color 3D printer sets the standard for office-ready, anyone-can-use 3D printing. In this video, Matias del Campo shows off his models and describes how he has been using the machine to save time and create difficult structures that would normally be unthinkable to a model maker in the same circumstances.

The thing really starts to come into its own when metallics are employed in the process.

How It's Made: 3D Metal Printing (Courtesy of Ex One)

Below: Advertising blurb from Zee Printers.

A bit from the UK.

Printing a bicycle with a 3D printer

The future?

3D printing will soon allow digital object storage and transportation, as well as personal manufacturing and very high levels of product customization. This video by Christopher Barnatt of illustrates 3D printing today and in the future.
Update: The Next Battle for Internet Freedom Could Be Over 3D Printing

Update: Short article here with link to a longer piece on printing pharmaceuticals.


Anonymous said...

Himself said...

Thank you.

12:10 Time to strap in, qualifying at Spar. (F1)

Himself said...

I've decided not to watch the qualifying, it's not Saturday.

herself said...

Today is however :). Popped by to ask your view on latest posts from JB. Are you as hopeful that defeat is certain? In our lifetime we actually may never learn the truth. Enjoy your Saturday, Himself.

Himself said...

JB? Linky? please.

herself said...

Blacksmith Bureau.

Everyone please read if you haven't already.

I am not so certain truth will come out, and we will all be dead when it does. That was secured, I believe, when they concealed the child's medical records. The answer lies there. But it must be something preposterous to allow these "parents" to continue and continue and continue.

Himself, I really miss your acerbic wit on your shelved blogs, but enjoy it here. Thanks.

Himself said...

Good morning.

Other than his latest piece, yes I had been keeping up with JB, but I have just spent a few minutes recapping his previous.

I am not so certain truth will come out, and we will all be dead when it does.

That may well be, but something will come out eventually, and if not enough to secure a conviction over the death of Madeleine, there is always the question of fraud. The evidence required to prove that being far less than that required to prove what happened that fateful night.

But I'm only being semi-rhetorical I suppose, I think a good silk would have the buggers convicted in an hour.

And thank you for your kind words.

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Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

U.S. group makes working gun with 3D printer

The goal is to show the U.S. government that gun-control laws are pointless when Americans can print their own firearms, piece by piece, at home. The group has even created a printable AK-47 magazine.

Himself said...


Himself said...

And so it came to pass.

However, U.S. congressman Steve Israel has called for them to be banned altogether.

Good luck with that.

Anonymous said...
fascinating pic, thank you

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Toolmakers also use 3D machining to their advantage. Millers with CNC controls can cut a shape out of steel in moments.

Himself said...

One method that revolutionised the industry some years back was wire erosion, also known as wire cutting, EDM.

It uses a very thin copper wire with an electrical current to cut through very thick steel blocks. It is extremely accurate.

The old method was to file a radius by hand. These machines have eliminated that.

It was wire EDM that changed the face of toolmaking, about 25 years ago I guess.

A cheap machine about £100,000, anything half decent, about £250,000 (then)

And used brass wire, not copper wire. Copper wire far too soft.

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Anonymous said...

A Dutch university hospital has successfully given a 22-year-old woman a plastic skull, made with the help of a 3D printer.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link H

One day you might be able to print your dream house.

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