What is 3D printing?
3D printing or additive manufacturing is the process of creating a tangible object from a digital file using successive layers of material under the control of a computer.
There are several different methods to 3D printing, however hobbyist and home 3D printers are more commonly known as Fused Deposition Modeling printers, or a FDM printer for short.
There are several styles of FDM printers however the following examples are known as Cartesian style printers. We have chosen this style as it is one of the more common style of 3D printer however other styles are available such as Delta.
Fused Deposition Modelling means that a hot viscus plastic (at 180 to 260 degrees centigrade) is extruded from an Extruder or Hot End on to a build surface or Hot Bed. As it cools the plastic sets allowing the printer to apply another layer repeatedly to produce a 3D shape.
Most 3D printers consist of a Extruder or Hot End that is attached to a set of axis that move left, right, up and down. While the build surface known as the Hot Bed moves forward and backwards allowing the printing material Filament to be applied in any position.
The heated bed or Hot Bed is required on most 3D printers as some types of Filament require a heated platform to prevent warping or shrinkage of the print, this keeps its dimensions accurate and stops your design from distorting.
The filament is a form of plastic that is kept on a spool and resembles a rigid cable, It is fed into the Extruder either directly via a motor within the extruder or an external motor mounted above the printers frame known as the Bowden Extruder.
Not all types of 3D printers use fillament, SLA (Stereo Lithography) printers use a light sensitive resin that is cured by lights.
Owning a 3D printer isn’t just a novelty, it is a powerful piece of equipment to have around the home. It allows the user to reproduce broken parts that are not easily replaced, create gifts, prototype ideas to see if it will work in the real world or used as a valuable learning tool for any young designer or engineer in the making.
Currently the medical industry use FDM printers to produce prosthetics for people who require replacement limbs, as well as dentists making dentures. NASA also use 3D printers on the International Space Station to reproduce parts while in space as carrying lots of spare parts in not suitable in such a small environment.
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