What is 3D Printing and how does it work?
3D Printing - Kitronik University What is 3D Printing? 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) is the process and production of a 3D object using material built up in successive layers. This gives designers the advantage of making designs that were not previously possible through traditional manufacturing methods. It has come into the media recently because the technology and manufacturing capabilities of 3D Printers has reached consumer level along with the ability to produce multiple designs using several materials with only one printer. 3D printing has been around in manufacturing since the 1970's but the printers were very expensive and had limited capabilities. It has come into the media recently because the capabilities of 3D Printers has reached consumer level along with the ability to produce multiple designs using one printer. This manufacturing process is revolutionising the way we design and manufacture specialised objects both in the factory and now at home. How does 3D Printing work? A 3D printer behaves like a 2D printer in the same way that you instruct the 2D printer to print a 2D drawing on paper. You use word processing software and the printer replicates the writing by 'printing' out a pattern as instructed by the software using liquid ink. Laser printers use a laser to etch the toner onto the page, so that is still a process of 2D printing. Instead, the 3D printer 'prints' a 3D object in successive layers using the 'filament' from a design drawn in CAD software. The CEL Robox 3D Printer is an excellent example of a 3D printer with dual nozzles that can accept different types of plastic. Below is a time lapse video of a Robox in action:
 

Time Lapse of a Robox 3D Printer

3D printing gives us the ability to produce shapes and designs that were never thought were possible. These objects have the advantage of very little wastage (if any) and products can be manufactured on site using one machine. This is opposed to building an entire factory dedicated to the manufacture of that one product and shipping the products across the globe. There are several methods of 3D printing that usually involve the deposition of melted or softened material using a variety of methods. Below is a summary of the major types of current 3D printing techniques.
  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). Also known as 'extrusion' 3D Printing. This process creates models by heating and extruding a plastic material, usually a filament or pellets. Each extruded layer fuses to the layer beneath it, gradually building up a shape.
  • Stereolithography produces models by tracing a beam of UV light over a photosensitive pool of liquid, hardening the liquid where the UV light strikes. Over time the part is lowered into the bath, one layer's thickness at a time and the hardening process is repeated.
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is a combination of 3D printing and a laser. The process is similar to stereolithography by replacing the UV light with a laser and a vat of liquid with a powdered base.
The CEL Robox 3D Printer is an Fused Deposition Modelling style 3D printer and can use ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) and PLA (Polylactic Acid) plastics. The size of the layers can be adjusted depending on the required print quality. Larger layers are used on lower quality prints and smaller layers are used on the best quality prints. For example, the Robox can achieve a print layer resolution up to 20 microns. Changing the print quality can have a major impact on the overall print time. 3D printers usually take a few hours to print out a simple printed model. It is not uncommon to have print times of more than 12 hours for more elaborate and intricate designs. The photograph below shows the difference between 'draft' and 'normal' detail settings:

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3D Printed Robots with different levels of detail: draft (left) and normal (right) 

The 'normal' detail (right) robot took approximately 2 hours to print whilst the 'draft setting only took around 1hr 20mins to print. The robots weigh 13.8g and 15.5g respectively.

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