What is 3D printing and 3D printer

 Since the beginning of the new millennium, the concept of "3D" has firmly entered our daily life. First of all, we associate it with cinematography, photography or animation. But now there is hardly a person who has not heard of such a novelty as 3D printing at least once in his life. What is it and what new opportunities in creativity, science, technology and everyday life are brought to us by 3D printing technologies, we will try to figure it out in the article below. 

But first, a little history. Although there has been a lot of talk about 3D printing only in the last few years, in fact, this technology has been around for quite some time. In 1984, Charles Hull developed 3D printing technology for reproducing objects using digital data, and two years later named and patented the technique of stereolithography. At the same time, this company developed and created the first industrial 3D printer. Subsequently, the baton was taken over by 3D Systems, which in 1988 developed the SLA-250 model of a printer for 3D printing at home.

SLA - 250

In the same year, Scott Grump invented fused deposition modeling. After several years of relative calm, in 1991 Helisys develops and markets a technology for the production of multilayer objects, and a year later, in 1992, DTM launches the first selective laser soldering system. Then, in 1993, Solidscape was founded, which began mass production of inkjet printers, which are capable of producing small parts with an ideal surface, and at a relatively low cost. At the same time, the University of Massachusetts patented a 3D printing technology similar to the inkjet technology of conventional 2D printers. But, perhaps, the peak of the development and popularity of 3D printing still fell on the new, 21st century. In 2005, the first A 3D printer capable of printing in color is the brainchild of Z Corp, called the Spectrum Z510, and just two years later, the first printer appeared that could reproduce 50% of its own components.

Z510

Currently, the range of possibilities and areas of application of 3D printing is constantly growing. These technologies turned out to be subject to everything - from blood vessels to coral reefs and furniture. However, we will talk about the areas of application of these technologies a little later.

So what is 3D printing?

In short, this is the construction of a real object according to a 3D model created on a computer. Then the digital three-dimensional model is saved in the STL-file format, after which the 3D printer, on which the file is output for printing, forms the real product. The printing process itself is a series of repetitive cycles associated with the creation of three-dimensional models, applying a layer of consumables to the printer's working table (elevator), moving the working table down to the level of the finished layer and removing waste from the table surface. The cycles continuously follow one after the other: the next layer is applied to the first layer of material, the elevator is lowered again and so on until the finished product is on the worktable.

How does a 3D printer work?

3D printing is a powerful alternative to traditional prototyping and small batch production. A three-dimensional, or 3D printer, in contrast to the usual one, which displays two-dimensional drawings, photographs, etc. on paper, makes it possible to display volumetric information, that is, to create three-dimensional physical objects.

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At the moment, the equipment of this class can work with photopolymer resins, various types of plastic filament, ceramic powder and metal clay.

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What is a 3d printer?

The principle of operation of a 3d printer is based on the principle of gradual (layer-by-layer) creation of a solid model, which is, as it were, "grown" from a certain material, which will be discussed a little later. The advantages of 3D printing over the usual manual methods of building models are high speed, simplicity and relatively low cost. For example, to create a 3D model or some manual part can take quite a long time - from several days to months. After all, this includes not only the manufacturing process itself, but also preliminary work - drawings and diagrams of the future product, which still do not give a complete vision of the final result. As a result, development costs increase significantly, and the period from product development to serial production increases. 3D technologies make it possible to completely eliminate manual labor and the need to make drawings and calculations on paper - after all, the program allows you to see the model from all angles already on the screen, and eliminate the identified deficiencies not during the creation process, as is the case with manual production, but directly during development and create a model in a few hours. At the same time, the possibility of errors inherent in manual work is practically excluded.

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What is a 3d printer: video

 There are various 3D printing technologies. The difference between them lies in the way the product layers are applied. Let's consider the main ones. The most common are SLS (Selective Laser Plexus), HPM (Molten Layering), and SLA (Stereolithiography). The most widespread technology is stereolithography or SLA due to the high speed of building objects.

SLA technology

The technology works like this: a laser beam is directed onto a photopolymer, after which the material hardens.

A variety of materials can be used as a photopolymer. Their physical and mechanical characteristics can vary greatly. However, no manufacturer has yet managed to create a truly durable material. Resin properties are comparable in strength to epoxy.

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After curing, it is easy to glue, machine and paint. The working table is in a container with photopolymer. After the laser beam has passed through the polymer and the layer has hardened, the working surface of the table is displaced downward.

SLA

SLS technology

Sintering of powder reagents under the action of a laser beam - aka SLS - is the only 3D printing technology that is used in the manufacture of molds for both metal and plastic casting.

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Plastic models have excellent mechanical properties, thanks to which they can be used for the manufacture of fully functional products. SLS technology uses materials similar in properties to the brands of the final product: ceramics, powdered plastic, metal.  The device of a 3d printer looks like this: powder substances are applied to the surface of the elevator and sintered under the action of a laser beam into a solid layer that corresponds to the parameters of the model and determines its shape.

LCD technology

Until recently, around 2017, photopolymer 3D printers were expensive. However, the invention of printing on the basis of transparent LCD matrices changed the situation radically. In the middle of 2019, you can purchase a good quality photopolymer 3d printer for about 30,000 rubles.

An LCD matrix for a 3d printer is a screen similar to a cell phone screen. By itself, such a matrix does not emit light. It can only change the degree of light transmission in different areas. This is how the picture of the print layer is formed. But the radiation source is located behind the lcd matrix. Thus, to create such a 3D printer, it was only necessary to replace the emitting lamp with an ultraviolet radiation source. Recall that the overwhelming majority of photopolymers solidify under the influence of UV radiation.

DLP technology

DLP technology is a newcomer to the 3D printing market. Today stereolithographic printing machines are positioned as the main alternative to FDM equipment. Printers of this type use digital light processing technology. Many people are wondering what a 3d printer of this sample prints? Instead of filament and a heating head, photopolymer resins and a DLP projector are used to create 3D shapes. Below you can see how the video 3d printer    works:  Having heard about DLP 3d printer for the first time, what it is is quite a reasonable question. Despite the convoluted name, the device is almost indistinguishable from other desktop printing machines. By the way, its developers, represented by QSQM Technology Corporation, have already launched the first samples of high-tech equipment into a series. It looks like this:

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EBM technology

It should be noted that SLS / DMLS technologies are far from the only ones in the field of metal printing . Currently, electron beam melting is widely used to create metallic three-dimensional objects. Laboratory studies have shown that the use of metal wire for layer-by-layer deposition in the manufacture of high-precision parts is ineffective, therefore engineers have developed a special material - metal clay.
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The metal clay used as ink during electron beam melting is made from a mixture of organic glue, metal shavings and a certain amount of water. In order to turn ink into a solid object, it must be heated to a temperature at which the glue and water will burn out, and the chips will fuse together into a monolith.

EBM 3d printer: how it works

It is noteworthy that this principle is also used when working with SLS printers. But unlike them, EBM devices generate directional electron pulses to melt metal clay instead of a laser beam. I must say that this method provides high quality printing and excellent rendering of small details. To date, only industrial printers are sold using EBM technology. Here's what one of them looks like:

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The video below clearly demonstrates the capabilities of a 3D printer adapted for electron beam melting: 

HPM Technology (FDM) HPM

HPM

It makes it possible to create not only models, but also final parts from standard, structural and high-performance thermoplastics. It is the only technology that uses production-grade thermoplastics to provide unparalleled mechanical, thermal and chemical strength to parts. HPM printing benefits from cleanliness, ease of use and suitability for the office. Thermoplastic parts are resistant to high temperatures, mechanical stress, various chemicals, wet or dry environments. Soluble auxiliary materials allow the creation of complex multilevel shapes, cavities and holes that would be problematic to obtain with conventional methods. HPM 3D printers create parts layer by layer, warming up the material to a semi-liquid state and squeezing it out in accordance with the ways created on the computer. For printing using HPM technology, two different materials are used - one (main) will consist of the finished part, and an auxiliary one, which is used for support. The filaments of both materials are fed from the compartments of the 3D printer to the print head, which moves depending on changes in the X and Y coordinates, and fuses the material, creating the current layer, until the base moves down and the next layer begins. When the 3D printer completes the creation of the part, it remains to separate the auxiliary material mechanically, or dissolve it with a detergent, after which the product is ready for use. Interestingly, not only automatic desktop HPM printers are popular these days, but also accessories for manual printing. Moreover, it would be correct to call them not printing devices, but pens for drawing three-dimensional objects.

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The pens are made in the same way as the fused-layer printers. The filament is fed into the handle, where it melts to the desired consistency and is immediately squeezed out through a miniature nozzle! With the proper skill, these original decorative figures are obtained:

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And of course, just like the technology, the printers themselves differ from each other. If you have an SLA printer, then the SLS technology cannot be applied on it, that is, each printer is created only for a specific printing technology.

Color 3D printing

This technology is the only one of its kind that allows you to obtain objects in the entire available range of shades. It is noteworthy that the coloring of products occurs directly during their manufacture. With its help, photorealistic objects are obtained. This arouses genuine interest in it from the side of designers. Often, a gypsum-based powder is used as a starting material. Brushes and rollers form a not very thick layer of the consumable. Then, with the help of a movable head, microdroplets of the glue-like substance are applied to the required areas (before that, it is painted in the desired color). It resembles cyanoacrylate in its composition. A finished multi-colored object is created in layers. The final treatment of the product with cyanoacrylate provides it with shine and rigidity.

Industrial and desktop color 3D printers

The modern market offers a variety of multicolor 3D printers. With their help, multi-colored objects are created at home. Most of the units are intended for professional use. Professional color printing on a 3D printer is carried out using: 1. Line Zprintеr from the well-known trade mark 3D Sуstems. These devices can create dimensional multi-colored objects. Supplied with 5 cartridges and automatic powder loading system. The technique is almost 100% automated, so it is not necessary to set up or control the printing process. Models weigh about 340 kilograms. The cost is in the range of 90-130 thousand dollars.

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2. Full-color 3D printer Мсor Iris. Multi-colored items are created by gluing individual pieces of paper together. This unit from Mcor Technologies Ltd creates volumetric photorealistic models with good strength indicators. Can generate up to a million colors. It costs 15 thousand dollars.

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Tabletop models for home use: 1. Color 3D printer 3D Touch. This unit operates on FDM technology. The model can be supplied with one, two or even three extrusion heads. Works with ABS or PLA-plastic. Weighs no less than 38 kilograms. The cost is about 4 thousand dollars. 2. Three-color 3D printer ВFB 3000 PANTHER - the first color printer that was launched on the market. Today its cost is about 2.5 thousand dollars. A standard plastic thread is used as a working material. For work, you need a thread of three colors. 3. One of the cheapest models - ProDesk3D. A system of five cartridges is used to create products. It is possible to work with PLA or ABS-plastic. The printer is equipped with an automatic configuration system. It costs only 2 thousand dollars. Unfortunately, it cannot boast of high print resolution.

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Applications of 3D printing

3D printing has opened up great opportunities for experimentation in areas such as architecture, construction, medicine, education, clothing modeling, small batch production, jewelry, and even the food industry.  In architecture, for example, 3D printing allows you to create three-dimensional models of buildings, or even entire neighborhoods with all the infrastructure - squares, parks, roads and street lighting. Thanks to the cheap gypsum composite used in this case, the cost of the finished models is low. And more than 390 thousand CMYK shades allow to embody any, even the most daring imagination of an architect in color.

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3d printer: application in the field of construction

In construction, there is every reason to believe that in the near future, the process of erecting buildings will be much accelerated and simplified. Californian engineers have created a 3D printing system for large-sized objects. It works like a construction crane, erecting walls from layers of concrete.  Such a printer can build a two-story house in just 20 hours. After that, the workers will only have to carry out the finishing work. 3D House 3D printers are gradually gaining a strong position in small-scale production. These technologies are mainly used for the production of exclusive products such as art objects, action figures for role-playing games, prototypes of models of future goods or any structural parts.  In medicine, thanks to 3D printing technologies, doctors have been able to recreate copies of the human skeleton, which allows them to more accurately work out techniques that increase the guarantees of successful operations. Increasingly, 3D printers are being used in the field of prosthetics in dentistry, since these technologies make it possible to obtain prostheses much faster than with traditional manufacturing.  Not so long ago, German scientists developed a technology for obtaining human skin. In its manufacture, a gel obtained from donor cells is used. And in 2011, scientists managed to reproduce a living human kidney. As you can see, the possibilities that 3D printing opens up in almost all areas of human activity are truly endless. Printers that create culinary masterpieces that reproduce human prostheses and organs, toys and visual aids, clothes and shoes are no longer a figment of the imagination of science fiction writers, but the realities of modern life. And what other horizons will open before humanity in the coming years, perhaps this can be limited only by the imagination of the person himself.
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