What is 3D Printing ? How does the 3D Printer work ?

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What is 3D Printing Technology? How does the 3D Printer work ?

Fused Deposition Modeling, or FDM, is an additive production process that melts a filament of plastic material on a surface creating an object. This technology is useful to produce incredibly precise objects which have an excellent strength-to-weight ratio. This method is ideal for conceptual models, prototypes, support objects and small decorative objects. 

The FDM process begins by dividing a 3D model into layers, this process is called “slicing”. The data is then transferred to a machine that builds the piece layer by layer on a mobile platform. Coils of thermoplastic and support material are used to create each layer of the part, printing each layer on top of the other. Similar to a hot glue gun, the filament material is slowly extruded through heated nozzles. The extrusion nozzles accurately place support and thermoplastic material on top of each other. 

The extrusion nozzle continues to move on a horizontal plane while the printing plane moves downwards, building the part layer by layer. The finished part is removed from the build platform and the support material is removed. Raw FDM parts have visible layer lines. However, service providers offer multiple finishing options to create smooth, even surfaced parts including hand sanding, assembly and cosmetic paint. Since the molded parts are built with thermoplastic materials including ABS, polycarbonate and Ultem, they are both functional and resistant.

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The FDM technique is used in numerous sectors including aerospace, automotive, industrial, commercial and medical. That usually takes into account an extruding process where we take our 3D model and lay it down layer after layer until we have a full piece printed. You could use sinistration to melt powdered based plastics with a laser layer by layer until you get a full model, and there is also SLA printing where it uses resin as well as UV light lasers to do a similar process. FDM printing and SLA printing is what we have available here in the library. 

So how do we use 3D printing? 

Some of the ways you might use it are for your personal projects. You might use it for your academic projects in your class. You may use it for ways to enhance your workspace or your environment at home. You might even use it to make business items, things you might sell or create for others to help them in their endeavors. You can teach design processes, you could teach by making learning objects that might be hard to come by and represent what you are trying to instruct. You could also use it in art projects. Maybe a sculpture that is something that you might not be able to make by hand but you can make digitally. You could use it to construct pieces inside of a bigger exhibit that might need special stays or architectural pieces that aren’t necessarily available conventionally but you can make them and 3D print them elsewhere. 

Let’s talk more about 3D printing terminology. 

So the first thing you need to do any 3D printing is a model. What we mean by a model is a digital object that we can represent in our digital space and give to our printer. This model can be made many ways. It can be made by yourself in a computer-aided drafting program, CAD program, or any number of other types of object rendering programs. The second thing we need is a slicer. Now our slicer is not exactly a model rendering program as much as it is a thing to take our model and slice it into thin layers that our machine can then take to print. So each of those layers that come out of our slicer are going to be the XY coordinates that our machine needs to be able to lay down filament. Once it lays down that filament it’s going to lay it on top of each other until we get back to our model.

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So at this point you’ve got most of the digital side of what we need for our terminology. Model into slicer, slicer to machine. Now where that model is going to be deposited is on the build plate of our printer. The build plate is the physical area on our printer where our model will be built. Its size is what determines how big your model can be. If you have a small build plate you can only make small models, if you have a big build plate you can make very big models. It’s really just the surface that your models adhere to when they get printed. 

What is Extruder 

It is where our model actually gets deposited from. You can think of your extruder kind of like a hot glue gun. It’s really taking our solid matter and heating it up to about 200 degrees celsius maybe even up to 230 or 240 celsius and getting it molten hot. At that point it’s extruded onto our build plate. What we’re heating up is our filament. Now the filament is the actual plastic that’s fed into the extruder and that’s going to be the material that your model is made out of. Most filaments that we use looks kind of like a weed eater wire. It’s a thin plastic, fairly flexible. Now that stays solid all the way down to the very tip of the extruder and it goes molten liquid right at that point. After it gets laid down it cools down pretty quickly, almost cool enough to touch, so that it can become a solid model. 

What it’s going to be laying down with our filament is a layer. 

Every layer is going to be prescribed as a certain height and that height, which is defined in our slicer, is the fidelity of your model or really the resolution of your model. So if you set a really small layer height you’re going to have lots and lots and lots of layers to make up your model. If you set a very tall layer height you’re going to have fewer layers and thus a little more of a rough model. You’ll be able to feel the layers if you run your fingers across it. Now last we’ll talk about really the only other three terms that you need that are essential to talking about 3D printing. So after you’ve taken your filament, fed it into your extruder, put it onto your build plate, you’re actually going to be designing or laying down a model at this point. 

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