What You Need to Know About 3D Printing

Industry Posts

What You Need to Know About 3D Printing

3D printing may seem like the “it” technology of the moment. But, what if I told you that it has been around since the early 1980s? That’s right, 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, has been in regular use in some form since 1982 when Hideo Kodama of the Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute published the first account of a printed solid three dimensional figure. So, what else don’t you know about our “it” tech? In this post, we are going to explore the in’s and out’s of 3D printing and perhaps debunk a few myths.

First, what exactly is 3D printing? 3D printing is the process of applying additive substances in a layer by layer method to match a computer generated model. In simple terms, someone sits at a computer and designs an object, then sends the design where a material such as plastic, is heated and layered onto a flat surface by the printer. It should be noted that is different from 3D sculpting, otherwise known as subtractive manufacturing. This is where an object is carved or sculpted from a solid block of material.

Companies value 3D printing because it allows for rapid prototype creation. With this method, companies can create small batches of new products and test them sooner than traditional manufacturing methods. In this methods, companies can prevent product defects by finding them before they proceed into production.

In addition to defect prevention, companies can produce actual size representations to examine how the design will appear on the end product. Suggested changes can be quickly implemented and examined thanks to the rapid prototyping of 3D printing. It is essentially equivalent to building a house in the same time it would take to make a Lego replica.

 

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After grasping the concept of the 3D printing, the next logical question to ask is what material are these printed objects made of. The answer is that it can be made of one or several different materials from metals to polymers with each material coming with its own set of pro’s and con’s.

Plastics are the most widely used 3D printed material. This is mainly because plastic is easy to heat up, mold, print, and quickly cool to a usable state without incurring many defects. Additionally, plastic is a relatively affordable material. This means companies can quickly churn out prototype designs in a cost effective manner.

Another benefit of printing plastics, is that a printer can produce plastic molds with a complex geometry which allow for more structurally stable products. These molds can then be used to cast and produce metal products.

Speaking of metal, did you know that it can also be 3D printed? That’s right, metal can be printed in a similar fashion to plastics. One key difference from plastic is the heating and cooling process. Metal must be heated to a much higher temperature than plastic and can easily develop imperfections during the cooling process. Because of this, metals command a much higher cost to print.

 

 

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Dr. Kevin Chou, a professor of mechanical engineering here at The University of Alabama, has developed a support system to help with the cooling problem associated with metal printing. His support acts as a “heat sink” which allows for uniform cooling of the metal. Think of it like baking a cake. If the cake doesn’t cool evenly, then it will likely sink in. This is the same concept except applied to superhot 3D printed metal.

Two things consumers might be most interested in printing are food and organs. As for food, there are currently printers on the market that can print items like chocolate and sugar based treats or something such as a pizza. A company called Natural Machines produces a printer they have dubbed, Foodini, that can print cuisine that is savory, sweet, and fresh. The company’s goal is to make their printer as ubiquitous as microwaves. Unfortunately, the Foodini isn’t available for consumers yet, but you can expect it hit shelves soon.

Printing organs is something that seems to come straight from a futuristic science fiction movie, but the process is already being developed in today’s world. Researchers at Princeton and John’s Hopkins have developed processes to make rudimentary body parts, such as ears and bones. These body parts are not necessarily made of organic material, but biogels and bio-polymers. The long term goal of the research is to be able to print organic material and ease the dependence of donations for vital organs such as kidney or the liver.

As awesome as the 3D printing industry is, it isn’t without its share of problems. The main problem is the inability to print conductive material, material that allows for the flow of electricity. As of now, printers can only print non-conductive material, which limits companies’ ability to produce innovative new products with electrical components.

Here at The University of Alabama, we have developed a few novel technologies with the potential to solve this problem. Dr. Jason Bara, a professor of chemical engineering, has created a novel polyimide material with customizable properties. For example, he can make a material that is harder and stronger, or one that is more moldable and bends easily. Where Dr. Bara’s technology becomes important in solving the conductivity conundrum, is that one of the customizable properties is conductivity. This means his material can be used to fabricate polymers, or plastics, which will be allow the flow of electricity. These polymers/plastics can then be inserted to a 3D printer and printed.

Another possible solution has been developed by Dr. Hwan-Sik Yoon. He has created a novel protocol for 3D printers to embed electronic components. In a nutshell, the protocol would interface with printers to stop printing and instruct an operator when to input the electronic components and then continue with printing.

Now you know the important basics of 3D printing. It will be incredibly interesting to see where the field goes and how it impacts our society. Who knows, maybe one day shopping for clothes and groceries will be as simple as printing them in your living room.

3D printing may seem like the “it” technology of the moment. But, what if I told you that it has been around since the early 1980s? That’s right, 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, has been in regular use in some form since 1982 when Hideo Kodama of the Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute published the first account of a printed solid three dimensional figure. So, what else don’t you know about our “it” tech? In this post, we are going to explore the in’s and out’s of 3D printing and perhaps debunk a few myths.

First, what exactly is 3D printing? 3D printing is the process of applying additive substances in a layer by layer method to match a computer generated model. In simple terms, someone sits at a computer and designs an object, then sends the design where a material such as plastic, is heated and layered onto a flat surface by the printer. It should be noted that is different from 3D sculpting, otherwise known as subtractive manufacturing. This is where an object is carved or sculpted from a solid block of material.

Companies value 3D printing because it allows for rapid prototype creation. With this method, companies can create small batches of new products and test them sooner than traditional manufacturing methods. In this methods, companies can prevent product defects by finding them before they proceed into production.

In addition to defect prevention, companies can produce actual size representations to examine how the design will appear on the end product. Suggested changes can be quickly implemented and examined thanks to the rapid prototyping of 3D printing. It is essentially equivalent to building a house in the same time it would take to make a Lego replica.

 

1

 

After grasping the concept of the 3D printing, the next logical question to ask is what material are these printed objects made of. The answer is that it can be made of one or several different materials from metals to polymers with each material coming with its own set of pro’s and con’s.

Plastics are the most widely used 3D printed material. This is mainly because plastic is easy to heat up, mold, print, and quickly cool to a usable state without incurring many defects. Additionally, plastic is a relatively affordable material. This means companies can quickly churn out prototype designs in a cost effective manner.

Another benefit of printing plastics, is that a printer can produce plastic molds with a complex geometry which allow for more structurally stable products. These molds can then be used to cast and produce metal products.

Speaking of metal, did you know that it can also be 3D printed? That’s right, metal can be printed in a similar fashion to plastics. One key difference from plastic is the heating and cooling process. Metal must be heated to a much higher temperature than plastic and can easily develop imperfections during the cooling process. Because of this, metals command a much higher cost to print.

 

 

2

Dr. Kevin Chou, a professor of mechanical engineering here at The University of Alabama, has developed a support system to help with the cooling problem associated with metal printing. His support acts as a “heat sink” which allows for uniform cooling of the metal. Think of it like baking a cake. If the cake doesn’t cool evenly, then it will likely sink in. This is the same concept except applied to superhot 3D printed metal.

Two things consumers might be most interested in printing are food and organs. As for food, there are currently printers on the market that can print items like chocolate and sugar based treats or something such as a pizza. A company called Natural Machines produces a printer they have dubbed, Foodini, that can print cuisine that is savory, sweet, and fresh. The company’s goal is to make their printer as ubiquitous as microwaves. Unfortunately, the Foodini isn’t available for consumers yet, but you can expect it hit shelves soon.

Printing organs is something that seems to come straight from a futuristic science fiction movie, but the process is already being developed in today’s world. Researchers at Princeton and John’s Hopkins have developed processes to make rudimentary body parts, such as ears and bones. These body parts are not necessarily made of organic material, but biogels and bio-polymers. The long term goal of the research is to be able to print organic material and ease the dependence of donations for vital organs such as kidney or the liver.

As awesome as the 3D printing industry is, it isn’t without its share of problems. The main problem is the inability to print conductive material, material that allows for the flow of electricity. As of now, printers can only print non-conductive material, which limits companies’ ability to produce innovative new products with electrical components.

Here at The University of Alabama, we have developed a few novel technologies with the potential to solve this problem. Dr. Jason Bara, a professor of chemical engineering, has created a novel polyimide material with customizable properties. For example, he can make a material that is harder and stronger, or one that is more moldable and bends easily. Where Dr. Bara’s technology becomes important in solving the conductivity conundrum, is that one of the customizable properties is conductivity. This means his material can be used to fabricate polymers, or plastics, which will be allow the flow of electricity. These polymers/plastics can then be inserted to a 3D printer and printed.

Another possible solution has been developed by Dr. Hwan-Sik Yoon. He has created a novel protocol for 3D printers to embed electronic components. In a nutshell, the protocol would interface with printers to stop printing and instruct an operator when to input the electronic components and then continue with printing.

Now you know the important basics of 3D printing. It will be incredibly interesting to see where the field goes and how it impacts our society. Who knows, maybe one day shopping for clothes and groceries will be as simple as printing them in your living room.

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