Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Process Of 3D Printing

What is 3D printing? It is a style of manufacturing that is becoming more available by the day. This style of manufacturing sticks out to engineers across the globe for its ability to create unheard of products, all while doing it on a small scale. These products stick out in the manufacturing world, as they can do feats that have never been done through methods like mold injection, or CNC cutting. Products created through 3D printing can include fully functional moving pieces, products like a ball within a ball, and incredibly high detail parts. Let me cover the basic process of a 3D printed product.
Before anything can happen, a product must be developed. This entails the creation of a 3D graphic on the computer by an artist or engineer. This computer graphic will be used as the blueprint for the manufacturing process. After a product is developed on the computer, it will then be sent to a 3D printing bureau, or a facility that has at least one 3D printer.
These "printers" are machines built to manufacture products. The size of these machines can range from the size of your night-stand, to the size of a smart-car. When a product is ready for 3D printing, the 3D file will be sent to a 3D printer, where it will then be manufactured. Typically, a 3D printer runs by laying down small layers of powder down on top of small layers as thin as a few microns.
This powder will usually consist of only one material; there are over fifty materials to choose from. Like I said, 3D printing involves referring to the blueprint to determine how a model is manufactured. On top of each layer, certain sections of powder (dependent on the model) will be fused together through a form of glue, or through a laser melting process. A printer will continue to lay down layers of powder on top of layers, all while fusing them together as the layers are laid down through laser melting, or a form of glue.
The final product will consist of layers on top of layers glued or fused together, surrounded by unused powder. The model will then by removed from the machine, dusted off, and dipped in a liquid known as Zbond. Zbond is a glue-like liquid that will flow through the model, adding additional stability. When a model created through 3D printing comes out of the printer, it is typically vulnerable and needs Zbond to stay strong with many materials. The remaining powder will be recycled in the machine. This product could hold the shape of almost anything, whether it is a miniature character model, a specific tool, a piece of jewelry, or even a functional piece to an engine. There are virtually no limits on what can be manufactured through 3D printing.
In a nutshell, 3D printing is the layer by layer fusion of small powders that consist of a certain material. Products can be developed out of a wide variety of materials in 3D printing. These materials could consist of thermoplastics, precious metals like gold or silver, mechanical metals, rubber like materials, translucent materials, etc. The list goes on; there are over fifty materials to choose from when it comes down to manufacturing a product. Essentially, it is the assembly of almost anything out of almost any material on a small scale.

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