How 3D Printing Works
There has been enough change in the last few years that 3D printing has actually already begun to make quite a dent in the amount of manufacturing going on in the United States.
To understand the impact that 3D printing is having, it’s important to start with a workable definition. 3D printing—also known as “additive manufacturing”—is the process of creating a three-dimensional object by applying, or adding, material in successive layers through the control of a computer. The 3D printing process, in basic terms, includes the following steps:
- The manufacturer creates a digital model of the object to be produced, normally by using a computer-aided design (CAD) program and employing some form of 3D scanning.
- The CAD model is converted into an appropriate file format, such as STL (stereolithography).
- The STL file is transferred to the computer that directly controls the 3D printer (a process similar to transferring a file to a standard printer when printing a document).
- The 3D printer is readied for the job. Containers are loaded with the appropriate printing materials (polymers and binders, for example), and a foundation tray for the finished object is set up.
- The printer builds the object, layer by layer. This process can take hours, or even days, depending on the size and complexity of the object and the materials used to create it.
- Once the 3D printer has completed the building process, the object is removed from the machine. The object may require some post-manufacturing actions, such as brushing and polishing, as well as the removal of water-soluble supports. The object may also require time to cure before it can be used.