Hello Machine Bros!
Today we are going to talk to you about a concept, a technology that came to revolutionize the way we have been doing things, a technology belonging to the fourth industrial revolution. This technology can convert a digital model into a three-dimensional physical model, thus obtaining endless new possibilities for invention, today we want to explain to you about a wonderful world that seems to come out of science fiction movies, we will give you the answer of what is 3D printing?
Definition of 3D Printing
3D printing is nothing more than a manufacturing process where we create physical, three-dimensional objects, superimposing successive layers of material. For this reason, 3D printing is known as an additive manufacturing technology.
Let’s make an analogy or comparison with banknotes. Suppose that you have a banknote in your hand, that banknote represents a layer. You place the bill on a table or any flat surface, then on that bill you put another bill in line, that is, you end up placing another layer, and so on until you place about 50 bills, which would be the equivalent of 50 layers.
If you look closely, now all those bills (layers) end up forming a kind of rectangular prism (Cuboid).
This is what 3D printing is looking for, adding layers, one on top of the other, until finally achieving the desired three-dimensional object. Now, how we add or superimpose these layers is what differentiates one type of 3D printing technology from the other, because yes, just as you just read, there are different types of 3D printing technologies.
Before talking about 3D printing technologies, there is a concept that you must handle which is the “Support material”. This material is used as its name indicates to serve as a support when depositing the final construction material in parts where it cannot be done directly.
Supporting material is commonly used in overhangs, bridge” and very steep angles (angles greater than 45°).
An easy way to see it is with the letters T, H and Y. Let’s imagine for a moment that we are going to print these letters in 3D. The letter T represents overhangs, the letter H represents a bridge, and finally, the letter Y represents angles greater than 45°. In the following image you can understand it better.
In addition, it is necessary to mention that the supports can also help the piece not to deform, not detach from the construction surface. In 3D printing with metals the supports can also help to dissipate heat.
Once the printing is finished, the support material is removed.
There are certain printing technologies where it is not necessary to use support material, for this reason we will present a comparative table where we explain which 3D printing technology requires support material and which does not.
|Technology||Does it require support material?|
|Fused filament fabrication (FDM)||Yes|
|3D concrete printing||Yes|
|Digital light processing stereolithography (DLP)||Yes|
|Masked Stereolithography (MSLA)||Yes|
|Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP)||Yes|
|Binder jetting (BJ)||No|
|Electron Beam Melting (EBM)||Yes|
|Selective laser melting (SLM)||Yes|
|Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS)||Yes|
|Selective laser sintering (SLS)||No|
|Selective heat sintering (SHS)||No|
|Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)||No|
|Laminated object manufacturing (LOM)||Yes|
|Laser Engineered Net Shaping (LENS)||Yes|
|Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing (EBAM)||Not for overhangs or angles greater than 45 °|
|Laser metal deposition (LMD)||Not for overhangs or angles greater than 45 °|
|Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM)||Not for overhangs or angles greater than 45 °|
|Electron-beam freeform fabrication (EBF3)||Not for overhangs or angles greater than 45 °|
|Drop on Demand (DOD)||Yes|
|NanoParticle Jetting (NPJ)||Yes|
Technologies such as EBAM, LMD, WAAM, and EBF3 do not require supports for overhangs or angles greater than 45°. This is because the construction surface has sufficient degrees of freedom (DOF) to incline the piece being built to such a point that it is perfectly possible to continue adding material without the need to use support material.
There are even projects of 5-axis FDM-FFF 3D printers (5-axis 3d printer) and 6-axis (6-axis 3d printer), which due to having sufficient degrees of freedom (DOF), they do not need to use support material to print overhangs and angles greater than 45°.
3D Printing Technologies
1. Fused deposition modeling (FDM) – Fused filament fabrication (FFF)
This is the most common technology and with the cheapest printers, which have made 3D printing so popular. Plastic filament is extruded layer by layer, which melts due to the high temperatures of the extruder and once one layer is completed, it is passed to the next, until the three-dimensional object is formed.
If you have doubts about which printer to buy FDM or SLA, we recommend that you visit our article “FDM vs SLA: Which printer to buy?”
This technology is like the one mentioned above (FDM-FFF), but instead of extruding plastic, a pasty filament is extruded layer by layer. Material is deposited that is expelled by the nozzle, thus completing the shape to be formed.
3. 3D Concrete Printing
This technology is based on depositing concrete while the nozzle through which it is extruded moves from one side to the other to give the shape that is needed, thus layer by layer until the desired structure is obtained.
In general, with this technology, the possibility that houses and buildings will be built using this technology is being experienced in the not-too-distant future. In our article “The Biggest 3D Printed Objects” you can see how this type of 3D printing has already been put into practice.
1. Stereolithography (SLA)
This is another of the most popular 3D printing technologies. It is constantly growing and innovating, competing against FDM technology, or even complementing it.
It is about having a container full of photosensitive resin and with ultraviolet light generated by a laser the resin hardens or solidifies layer by layer, thus until obtaining the desired shape.
If you have doubts about which printer to buy FDM or SLA, we recommend that you visit our article “FDM vs SLA: Which printer to buy?“
2. Digital light processing stereolithography (DLP)
This technology is the same as SLA, but the ultraviolet light instead of being generated by a laser is generated by an ultraviolet digital light projector (DLP).
3. Liquid crystal display stereolithography (LCD) Masked Stereolithography (MSLA)
This technology is the same as SLA, but the ultraviolet light instead of being generated by a laser is generated by an ultraviolet liquid crystal display (LCD). MSLA technology is commonly used in desktop resin 3D printers, that is, the printers most accessible to the public.
4. Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP)
It is a new technology patented by the Carbon3d company which seeks to considerably increase resin 3D printing times.
Desktop resin 3D printers are usually of the “Bottom-Up” type. In their printing process, these generate a force known as “Peel force”, which is a kind of suction or adhesion that is created between the part to be printed and the FEP sheet (The FEP sheet is responsible for creating a separation between the emitter UV light and resin).
This kind of suction “Peel force” must be eliminated each layer, and this generates an additional waste of time, in addition to making the issue of 3D printing by resin somewhat difficult, and for this reason more supports must be used.
In summary, CLIP technology seeks to eliminate this “Peel force” by making use of an oxygen permeable membrane, which they call a kind of “Dead Zone”, which represents a great advantage.
But for now, it is not a very cheap technology. Later when we enter the world of resin 3D printers, in another article, we will explain in more detail what are Bottom-Up printers (The most popular and economical), and Top-Down printers (They also do not present the problem of “Peel Force”, but they are more expensive to produce, and have other disadvantages).
Powder Bed – Granulate:
1. Binder jetting (BJ)
These types of printers work in the following way. In a container, layers of powder of a certain material are deposited, then the powder is solidified using a binder liquid. This binder liquid is deposited by a head that normally moves in two directions (X and Y), to put the binder in the required places to obtain the desired shape.
Once that layer is finished, the container or the printing surface moves downwards (Z axis), a mechanism is in charge of supplying a new layer of powder, and the process is repeated, until all the layer printing is finished and get the desired object.
2. Electron Beam Melting (EBM)
The working mechanics are similar as the binder injection (BJ), but the powder to be used must be a conductive material, only metals can be used.
An electron beam is used to melt the powder, and the printing process must be done under vacuum, the powder is preheated before starting the printing process.
3. Selective laser melting (SLM)
This technology is very similar to EBM, but instead of using an electron beam to melt the material, a laser is used in this case. The printing is done in a controlled atmosphere with some inert gas, for example argon or nitrogen.
This technology works better with pure metals rather than alloys and can produce stronger parts than those made by DMLS.
4. Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS)
This technology is very similar to SLM, but instead of melting the material, it is heated to a temperature slightly lower than that of melting (Sintering).
3D printing by DMLS requires support structures and can work with both metals and alloys, since its function is not to completely melt the material.
SLM technology can produce stronger parts than this technology (DMLS). In addition, it should be noted that with DMLS the prints tend to be more porous than with SLM.
5. Selective laser sintering (SLS)
This technology is practically the same as DMLS, the main difference between this technology (SLS) and DMLS is that DMLS was designed or conceived mainly to work with metals and their alloys, while SLS technology is intended to work with numerous types of plastics, glass, ceramics, and a special selection of metals.
That is, DMLS printers are focused on working with metals and SLS printers can only work with very specific metals, but they can also work with other materials such as plastics, glass, ceramics, etc. An advantage of SLS prints is that they do not require support material.
6. Selective heat sintering (SHS)
This technology is very similar to SLS, the difference is that in SHS printing instead of using a laser to sinter (This is how it is done in SLS printing), here a “thermal print head” is used.
It should also be noted that this technology (SHS) can only be applied with plastic material powders. SHS prints do not require support material.
7. Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) by HP
This technology is like SLS and SHS, the differences are as follows. In MJF printing, the plastic powder is preheated, then a fusing agent and a detailing agent are injected onto the parts to be fused. The fusing agent helps the plastic powder selectively melt only the parts to be joined, the detailing agent helps to improve the resolution and finish of the print. Both agents are a kind of ink that is specifically sprayed or injected into the plastic powder particles that are intended to be melted.
Once the two respective agents have been applied (the fusing and the detailing), lamps are passed that generate the reaction that allows the parts that were treated with the agents to fuse and unite. Then the building surface goes down, a new layer of powder is added, and the process is repeated, so on, layer by layer, until the desired object is finally obtained.
1. Laminated object manufacturing (LOM)
This technology is not very common. The process begins with reels of material in the form of sheets, (for example, reels of paper) some rollers place the sheet of material (which is generally paper, cardboard or PVC) in position.
Another roller sticks the sheet of material to the printing surface, then a laser cuts the outline of the part to be designed. The laser then cuts into small squares the parts of the sheet that are not part of the piece to be printed. The latter to simplify the extraction of excess material (which is quite a lot, this technique has this great disadvantage, since this material is wasted, unless another company is in charge of recycling it and producing new material reels).
Finally, the printing surface goes down on the Z-axis and the rollers remove part of the sheet that was not cut and add a new sheet part of material from the reel. The process is repeated, but this time when the rollers have the new sheet, this sheet will not be glued to the printing surface, but to the sheet that had previously been worked (that is, to the one cut by the laser), which is part of the piece we want to print.
This process is repeated over and over, layer by layer, until finally the object is completely printed. Then in the post-processing we must remove all the excess material. This printing technology does not require the use of support material, we recommend you watch the following videos that, together with the explanation that we have provided here, could help you better understand how LOM technology works.
Direct Energy Deposition (DED):
1. Laser Engineered Net Shaping (LENS)
In this technology, a high-power laser melts a metallic powder that is injected by another head, that is, there are two heads, one that injects the material and the other with the laser that melts it.
The heads move in the X and Y axis, once the layer is finished, the heads move in the Z axis, and continue printing the next layer, so on until the printing is finished.
2. Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing (EBAM) by Sciaky
This technology is similar to (LENS), the main differences are as follows. With EBAM the material is supplied in wire or rod form, with LENS it is supplied in powder form. The other difference is that with EBAM the material is melted using electron beams, LENS technology melts using a high-power laser.
3. Laser metal deposition (LMD)
This technology is practically the same as (LENS), only it has another commercial name.
4. Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM)
The process is very similar to any other direct energy deposition (DED) additive manufacturing method. The main difference is that this technology uses arc welding as a source of energy to melt a wire or rod. MIG-MAG, TIG and plasma welding sources can be used for this process.
5. Electron-beam freeform fabrication (EBF3) by NASA
A technology very similar to Sciaky’s (EBAM), but this is owned by NASA. NASA developed this printing technology to be used in weightless conditions.
Material Jetting (MJ):
1. PolyJet by Objet
This type of technology is the one that most closely resembles the classic 2D printing, the difference lies in the fact that the head instead of injecting normal ink, it injects small drops of a photopolymer, then cures them with ultraviolet light, thus doing it layer by layer until printing is finished. In addition, the head can also inject soluble material for the supports that are necessary.
2. Drop on Demand (DOD)
This technology is very similar to that applied by PolyJet, the main difference is that every time a layer is finished, the printer uses a milling machine that they call a “fly-cutter” to polish the layer and leave it perfectly flat.
3. NanoParticle Jetting (NPJ) by XJet
This technology is similar to “PolyJet” and “DOD”, but in this case two types of liquids are used, both of which contain nanoparticles. One of the liquids is for the construction material and the other is for the supports. The printer uses high temperatures to evaporate the liquid leaving only the solid parts.
Brief history of 3D printing
By general culture, we want to mention that the first known 3D printer was SLA technology (not FDM as many might think). This was in the year 1984 by Chuck Hull.
In 1987 Carl Deckard developed an invention that synthesizes resin powder into a solid, the principle of SLS printing, although commercial printers appeared much later, around mid-2006. FDM printers appeared later, becoming a very popular technology.
Uses of 3D printing
The uses are too many, from using such technology as a hobby or for hobbies, to using it for medical implants and in the aerospace career.
This technology was conceived mainly for prototyping. 3D printing revolutionized the way of prototyping, reducing costs, difficulty, and time, but today it has more utilities.
Although its great strength continues to be the prototyping and the design of unique pieces, for now it is not a very good technology for mass production, as this would raise costs and times, other manufacturing processes and technologies are more profitable to produce pieces in series.
With 3D printing you can help significantly, for example, during the COVID-19 pandemic 3D printers were useful in certain sectors, we even have an article entitled “3D printing in times of Coronavirus.“
3D printing as a technology in the right hands can help save lives, and we are not exaggerating by saying this, you can see for yourself at the following link “3D printing can save lives”.
For you to see the amazing things that you can 3D print we have articles titled “3D Printing – Part Name” where you can see the process of printing and post-processing of models that we have printed, for example, we will leave you the following two: “3D Print – Predator” and “3D Print – Darth Vader”. Also, in the following article, we name you “50 Reasons to have a 3D printer“.
The reality is that 3D printing is a technology that has come to stay, it has an infinite number of uses and applications since you use it to replicate or copy gears “How to Replicate and 3D Print Gears” or even to create devices to help people who have a special condition or disability “Adaptive aids with 3D printing“.
What should I know before buying a 3D printer?
The first thing you should know about is which 3D printing technology you will decide for, if you are starting in this world and do not plan to make such a high investment, the ideal would be an FDM or SLA printer.
Knowing this, you should be aware that generally, 3D printing is not a matter of “plug and play”. Printers must be configured and calibrated, you have to study and practice.
Probably your first printings will not turn out as you expected, but that is what we are for, to help you in this world of 3D printing, to guide you, so that together we can discover everything we can do with this wonderful technology.
If you have doubts between FDM and SLA technology, you can visit our article “FDM or SLA: Which 3D printer to buy?“. We also have a very interesting article with which we can give you a better idea of which 3D printer by FDM to acquire “Best reviewed 3D printers on Amazon“.
It is important that you know that you will need to know, even a little about 3D design because otherwise, you will always depend on the models that you can download on pages like Thingiverse and third parties, which would end up limiting you a lot.
Finally, you should know that 3D printing is not as fast as normal 2D printing, for this reason, you must have a little patience when printing your models.
If you are thinking of buying a 3D printer to start a business, you should visit our article “Create your 3D printing business on a low budget“.
Do you need a computer to have a 3D printer?
Yes, you need a computer to set up your models. Then you can print them by USB cable, by SD and micro-SD memories, by Wi-Fi. Everything will depend on the type of connection that your 3D printer supports.
How big are 3D printers?
This question does not have a definitive answer, as there are printers of all sizes. The most common and smallest 3D printers are often called desktop 3D printers.
But there are 3D printers large enough to print houses, cars, and boats. You can check more information about this in “The Biggest 3D Printed Objects“.
If what you want is to have is at least an idea of how big a standard desktop 3D printer is, for reference we can tell you that the Creality Ender 3 printer, a popular printer, has dimensions of 220 x 220 x 250 mm.
How much does a 3D printer cost?
Certainly, the cost of a printer depends a lot on the technology used by that 3D printer and if it is low, medium, or high-end. But you can find 3D printers (desktop type) from $150 USD to 3D printers that cost thousands of dollars, such as those for industrial use.
A professional and industrial 3D printer can have a very high price range, its costs easily range from 10,000 USD to 100,000 USD, even more.
To learn more about different 3D printer options, we highly recommend that you review our article “Best reviewed 3D printers on Amazon”.
If you decide to go for a Creality Ender 3, our article “Assembly and Setting Up the Creality Ender 3” will definitely be very useful for you.
Next, we will provide you with a table comparing the prices of FDM and SLA desktop 3D printers.
3D Printers between $ 150 and $ 250 (Low End)
- Creality Ender 3 Pro
- Technology: FDM
- Printing Volume: 220 x 220 x 250 mm
- ELEGOO Mars 2 Pro
- Technology: SLA
- Printing Volume: 115 x 65 x 150 mm
3D Printers between $ 300 and $ 500 (Mid-Range)
- Anycubic Mega X
- Technology: FDM
- Printing Volume: 300 x 300 x 305 mm
- Anycubic Photon Mono X
- Technology: SLA
- Printing Volume: 115 x 65 x 165 mm
3D Printers more than $ 600(High End)
- Flashforge Adventurer 4
- Technology: FDM
- Printing Volume: 200 x 200 x 250 mm
- ELEGOO Saturn S
- Technology: SLA
- Printing Volume: 196 x 122 x 210 mm
All these 3D printers can be purchased in external online stores (example Amazon, eBay, Alibaba), in physical stores, or on the manufacturers’ own website.
How long does it take to complete a 3D print?
It depends. The time depends on the type of 3D printing technology, the 3D printer, the configuration, the model, there are many variables that come into play when defining the printing time.
A small print (for example a 2x2x2cm die), made by FDM with a low-end desktop 3D printer could take 10 minutes (depending on the configuration used), and we could even print models larger than It would easily take us more than 48 hours to complete the print (also depending on the configuration).
The truth is that compared to classic 2D printing, 3D printing is not “very fast”, so it will be necessary to have some patience when printing the models. The advantage is that the software used to configure the prints gives us an approximate time of how long it will take to print a model.
Are 3D printers dangerous?
The FDM technology 3D printers that are the most popular on the market, have motors, parts with mechanical movements and high temperatures, which can hurt us if we are careless in handling them.
We only must have common sense and follow the user instructions provided by the manufacturers to minimize any risk to our health.
Likewise, SLA technology 3D printers have different sources of risks such as resin, which, when the skin has contact with it for long periods of time, can generate dermatitis. It can also generate fumes that are toxic to the lungs, so use of these printers in well-ventilated spaces is recommended.
This is a topic that we will touch on in more detail in a future article.
But there is no need to panic! In our house we already have tools and equipment that can have health risks, such as knives, ovens, blenders, etc. We simply must follow the manufacturers’ user instructions, and we will have no problem enjoying our 3D printers.
Reasons why you should NOT buy a 3D printer?
Next, we would like to give you seven reasons why you should rethink whether to buy a 3D printer.
- If you do not know anything about 3D design, and you do not have any intention of learning, you will be limited in terms of options and utilities that you can obtain from the 3D printer. You would not enjoy the 3D printer to the fullest. However, as we mentioned above, there are web pages to download printable models such as Thingiverse and My Mini Factory that have millions of models to download (free and paid).
- If you don’t like the “maker” and “DIY” culture, 3D printing may not be for you. In general, you can make the most of a 3D printer, if you are one of the people who like to create things, repair objects, if you are passionate about technology, if you are willing to study and practice. Otherwise remember that 3D printers are generally not “plug and play” (specially desktop 3D printers), for this reason, you must calibrate, configure, sometimes make modifications or repairs.
- If you want a 3D printer for a single project, it may not be profitable to buy one. In this case, it might be preferable to hire the services of a third party or rent a 3D printer. Analyze all the options.
- If you do not like noise or are sensitive to odors, then you should bear in mind that certain materials produce odors that you may find unpleasant, some materials (ABS, for example) even give off slightly toxic vapors and you would need to 3D print in a ventilated environment. Some printers make some noise, but this noise could bother certain people, certainly, in general, they make much less noise than a vacuum cleaner, but anyway we mention this for you to bear in mind.
- If you are an extremely impatient person, you may be frustrated by 3D printing. Although each time technology has advanced, 3D printing times are decreasing due to these advances. Normally, printing an object takes you some time, you must first learn how to use the printer, then how to configure and calibrate it. Once this is done, when you go to 3D print a model you must configure it, then wait for the printing to finish, and depending on the printed object you may need to carry out some type of post-processing.
Also, if you design the object yourself, this will take you extra time, not to mention that the object must be designed thinking that it will be 3D printed. There is a huge difference between printing an object that is intended, designed, and optimized to be 3D printed to printing an object that is not.
- If you are thinking of using 3D printing to mass-produce, we recommend that you analyze and study it better, it may be that another type of technology is more profitable for you. Unless you are producing objects for a niche market (this is what we talked about in our article Create your 3D printing business on a low budget), 3D printing is generally not very profitable for mass production.
3D printing is a world full of possibilities, creativity, and innovation. Here at The Machine Bros, we share this great passion for “creating”, and we share with you all the tools, information, and lessons necessary so that you too can fully enjoy the ability to obtain physical, three-dimensional objects, starting from a dream or an idea, this is what makes 3D printing so amazing.
It gives you the opportunity to materialize ideas, it’s almost like being children again, like when we dreamed of something and made it come true with LEGOS, or whatever was within our reach. We manufactured cars, robots, airplanes, everything, we were able to let ourselves be carried away by our imagination and materialize that idea. That toy that we wanted at one point was built with some simple LEGOS for example.
This is what has made 3D printing so attractive, popular, and coveted, it gives dreamers like you, like us, the opportunity to continue creating and innovating, developing, dreaming, decreasing the limits more and more, all this thanks to 3D printing.
So, if you have already decided to purchase your 3D printer, let us recommend a series of articles that can help you get started in this world:
- Most Used 3D Printing Terms: In this article, you will learn to handle the terms that are commonly used in this world of 3D printing.
- 2020 Best 3D Printing Websites – List regularly updated: As the name implies, it is a list of the best 3D printing sites, we update this list regularly.
- Guide to select 3D printing filaments: Once you have purchased your 3D printer by FDM, one of the first things you should do is select the material of the filament with which you are going to print, this is precisely what we explain in detail in this article.
- The importance of the first layer in 3D printing: When a building is built, one of the most important parts are its bases and foundations. The same happens with 3D printing. In this article, we explain how to make a very good first layer of FDM 3D printing.
- Tips to prevent warping and cracking: If you already know a little more about 3D printing or have even already made your first impressions, it is very possible that you are already familiar with these two terms warping and cracking. They may have already happened to you. In this article, we explain how to prevent these two effects.
- How to Apply Annealing to 3D Prints: If for any reason you need your 3D prints to be more resistant mechanically and thermally, in this article we explain about a post-processing that can help you achieve it, annealing.
- Beginner’s Guide: How to Paint Your 3D Model: Once your 3D print is finished you may want to paint it. Here we have a pretty good and very complete guide where we advise you on all aspects so that you can paint your models like a professional.
See you soon Machine Bros!