Getting started with 3D printing

What is 3D printing ?

3D printing is a manufacturing method that helps us make products better and faster. So whats the craze about a manufacturing method  you ask, why has it gotten so much media attention lately ?. Most manufacturing technologies use subtractive methods to make parts, this is where you would start with a block of a desired material and slowly remove  material from where it was not required. This is not only a wasteful method but also one that could not make complex shapes as the cutting tool would not be able to reach into inner parts. This led to the invention of “Additive Manufacturing” a.k.a “3D printing”. The introduction of 3D printing revolutionized the manufacturing industry, geometries and shapes that could have never been thought of before are now possible. Engineers and scientists who were limited by manufacturing constraints now had a new tool to help them push the boundaries of their experiments further.

How Does 3D printing work ?

As mentioned before 3D printing is an additive manufacturing technology so it adds material only where it is required thereby saving on material. This additive process works by adding a layer of material onto another one by one until a part is made. 3D printing machines have a surface called “the print bed” which is where the first layer of material is deposited, each successively layer is deposited onto the previous one building the product layer by layer. A great example to understand this is to imagine a pack of cards, your final part is a cuboid that represents a complete pack when all cards are stacked on each other. Each card though represents a single layer of that part, this is in essence what 3D printing is all about a layer by layer process in which each layer fuses to the previous one. There are a variety of technologies that fall under the umbrella of 3D printing such as Fused Deposition Modelling(FDM), Stereolithography (SLA), Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) and many more, we will cover these topics in more detail in the following posts.

When and How was 3D printing Invented ?

Although many think of 3D printing as a recent phenomenon it has actually been around for a while. The first technology under the umbrella of 3D printing to be invented was Stereolithography way back in 1986, yes you read that correctly 3D printing was invented in 1986 by Chuck Hull a.k.a The Father of 3D printing. Upon successfully inventing this technology, he started his own company “3D systems” that is a leader in this industry. Now I can hear you ask “If 3D printing was invented in the 1980’s why is becoming popular now ?”. There are a couple of reasons for this, First this technology was heavily patented meaning only one company had the access to make use of it for 20 years. Second since these machines made use of cutting edge technology and probably spent millions of dollars $ inventing this technology the cost of acquiring such a machine was out of the budget for most. It wasn’t until the late 2000’s that patent’s started to fall and desktop 3D printing started to rise.

The rise of desktop 3D printing and the rep rap community is nothing short of a miracle. The farther of the rep rap movement Dr. Adrian Bowyer who was a professor in Bath university in England wanted to create a self replicating machine that could create parts for its self. This was the birth of modern day 3D printing and the rise of the 3D printing revolution. What is the most astonishing part about Dr Adrain Bowyer is that he could have chosen to patent parts of his invention but instead he chose to make it open sourced, this led to the rapid development of this technology and created a global popularity boom. Since the technology was open sourced and the design utilized existing low cost hardware 3D printing all of a sudden become easily available to the masses. From early 2009 to 2011 many companies such as Makerbot, Ultimaker, etc., made use of Dr. Adrian Bowyer’s technology to become million dollar companies today. This my friends is how 3D printing reached its height of popularity.

What has 3D printing done so far ?

So what was made possible with 3D printing that was not possible before. For starters the ability to design your own parts in house that could be made within a few hours instead of outsourcing to manufacturers and waiting for weeks. 
The primary and major use of 3D printing even today is for prototyping. Before companies finalize on a design they build multiple prototypes to test the form fit and function of a product. This method of creating prototypes by 3D printing instead of using mold tools, vacuum casting and other expensive methods saved companies a lot of money. Start-ups and small companies who once could not afford creating multiple prototypes now had the opportunity to to do so. Also since there was freedom to make prototypes, companies made use of this and tested a larger set of designs which in turn helped them choose the best design for large scale production.
Apart from prototypes another very interesting application of 3D printers have been to decrease the weight of parts on airplanes and automobiles. Every kilogram removed from an airplane could save thousands of dollars $ in fuel costs. Companies have started investing in research in the areas of topology optimization, light weighting and generative design which helps them reduce the weight of a component without affecting its strength.


Hey I hope you enjoyed my content and learnt something along the way, if you would like to more about 3D printing please leave a comment below !



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