What is 3D printing and how does it work?

We are always seeking to educate the general public. Therefore, we have set out to create a brief, yet informative guide on 3D printing and how it works. We hope it teaches you a little bit about the technology and perhaps acts as a springboard for your creativity to run wild. We will update this guide as times change, and new technologies and information become available.

3d printingInvented by a man named Chuck Hull back in 1986, 3D printing is a process of taking a digital 3D model and turning that digital file into a physical object. 3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file.

The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process, an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the entire object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object.

How does 3D printing work?

This is a broad question, with that said, the best way to really understand how 3D printing works is to understand the various technologies involved. Similarly to the way that engines function based on some of the same principles as one another, but don’t all use oil or solar power, all 3D printers don’t use the same base technology, but still manage to accomplish the same basic tasks.

It all starts with making a virtual design of the object you want to create. This virtual design is made in a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file using a 3D modeling program (for the creation of a totally new object) or with the use of a 3D scanner (to copy an existing object). A 3D scanner makes a 3D digital copy of an object.

3d scanners use different technologies to generate a 3d model such as time-of-flight, structured / modulated light, volumetric scanning and many more.
To prepare a digital file for printing, the 3D modeling software “slices” the final model into hundreds or thousands of horizontal layers. When the sliced file is uploaded in a 3D printer, the object can be created layer by layer. The 3D printer reads every slice (or 2D image) and creates the object, blending each layer with hardly any visible sign of the layers, with as a result the three dimensional object.

What Is 3D Printing Used for and by Whom?

While initially 3D printing was primarily a technology for prototyping, this is quickly changing. Now numerous manufacturers are producing end-use components and entire products via additive manufacturing. From the aerospace industry, to medical modeling and implantation, to prototyping of all kinds, 3D printing is being used by virtually every major industry on the planet in one way or another.

There you have it, a brief guide that we hope has left you a little bit more informed about what 3D printing is, what it’s used for, and how the various technologies involved in the process actually work.