Back in the late 1990’s when I was studying industrial design in Canberra, Australia, 3D Printing was just starting to become popular as an emerging technology. No one knew much about it, the funny thing is that even now 30 years later, it still seems emerging. Back in the early 2000s people predicted that people would have 3D printers in their houses like inkjet printers, that hasn’t really happened. Either it’s not going to happen OR It will happen but it will take a bit longer than expected. I think one of the barriers to this happening is that people need to have some elementary understanding of 3D software, which I don’t think many people have.
This post is a beginners / layman’s guide to 3D printing and covers what it is, how you can use it and some brands or products that are 3D printed.
3D printed products
Australian company wow mountain design and print a graphically cute bunch of flowers used as a sculpture. Here below is a video showing how the flowers are printed in 3-
The company 3D print everything with their small 3d printing farm in Sydney, Australia. They use a material called PLA, or poly(lactic) acid, which is a bioplastic derived from corn.
3d printed fashion
3d printing instagram accounts to follow
Ben Pendergast has this account with a mammoth 147k followers who watch his antics and creations with his 3d printer. From toys to spare part components he popularises 3d printing with his fun and energetic approach. He makes 3d printing seem very accessible and easy.
Krizia is an architect by day and a 3d "printchitect" by night. She has created some really fantastic clothing using small 'scales' 3d printed by her and then stitched together. It really is very fascinating
Here is one of her posts below. Some people think that you can only 3d print solid hard objects, whist this is true you can also 3d print very thin items which allow them to be quite fluid when all together or stitched onto fabric. What Krizia has done with her research and experimentation into 3d printed 'fabrics' is allow 3d printing to really enter the realm of fashion which widens the appeal, the market and the applications of 3d printing. This in turn will enable 3d printing to become even more popular in mainstream society.
3d printing materials
The most common materials used in 3d materials are plasdtics - ABS, PLA, and their various blends. More advanced FDM printers can also print with other specialized materials that offer properties like higher heat resistance, impact resistance, chemical resistance, and rigidity. The printer materials come in a coil. A material called PLA is the go-to material for most users due to its ease-of-use, dimensional accuracy, and low cost.
Here is a great summary guide to various 3D printing materials that you can use from the common plastics through to metal filled and wood filled filaments.
Aside from plastics you can also 3D print with metals. In fact, just about any metal can be 3D printed. One of the main advantages of 3D printing metal, apart from the part complexity and speed, is the savings of raw material and virtually no waste. This is extremely important when printing with expensive materials, such as titanium.
Cost of 3d printers
There are hundreds of different types of 3d printers on the market, from entry machines that you would have at home all the way through to more professional printers that allow higher precision and the use of different kinds of materials. You can buy a budget 3d printer for as low as US$300 which is a hobby style machine or a machine that you might put together yourself in a DIY fashion.
These printers are usually best for individual makers just getting into 3D printing. While they aren’t really known for their reliability, they’re a relatively inexpensive way to get into the 3D printing hobby.
For the advanced hobbyist, expect to pay anywhere between US$300 and $1000. For this price you will get a machine that can also handle whatever brand of filament you throw at them, allowing for a range of prices for materials. As for add-ons, advanced hobbyist machines usually come with a fair amount of integrated features, but many users still spend between $30 to $300 on other, more costly upgrades, like a Raspberry Pi board for printer control or a multi-material unit.
Read this article for a more indepth exploration into the price brackets of 3D printers in 2022.
Professional vs home 3d printers
Speed: One of the key differences between an industrial 3d printer and a desktop 3d printer is speed. A desktop printer can achieve a printing speed of approximately 50mm / second whilst an industrial 3d printer can print up to 2 to 3 times faster at up to 150mm per second.
Accuracy: For desktop (or home) 3d printers the accuracy rate is 0.5%-1%, whilst professional or industrial 3D printers have an dimensional accuracy rate of 0.2%. The more money you spend on a 3d printer, the more professional finish you will get.
Product yeild: Professional 3D printers are used to make larger batches of products - production, like many parts or components used for commercial items. Whilst home 3D printers are more likely to be used to print 1 off items.
Size: The most common working field in low-budget models is 200 x 200 x 200 mm, while for industrial models these dimensions can reach up to 900 x 600 x 900 mm. The machine itself is larger AND as a result, professional 3D printers can print larger items.
Thermal properties of resultant items: Industrial 3D printers usually have a closed or heater chamber which allow a precisely controlled printing environment. This allows the use of materials that are more advanced and have a higher strength or thermal resistance.
To select what kind of 3D printer to use/buy the first thing to do is to work out what kind of things you want to print - what kind of materials they need to be, what size and how accurate. This information will determine what kind of 3D printer you need.
Here is a picture of an industrial size 3D printer
You can watch this video which also explains the difference between professional and home 3d printers.
Sustainability and 3d printing
PLA which is a common material used in 3D printing is used in most extrusion-based 3D printers because it can be printed at a low temperature and does not require a heated bed. PLA is a great first material to use as you are learning about 3D printing because it is easy to print, very inexpensive, and creates parts that can be used for a wide variety of applications. It is also one of the most environmentally friendly filaments on the market today. Derived from crops such as corn and sugarcane, PLA is renewable and most importantly biodegradable. As a bonus, this also allows the plastic to give off a sweet aroma during printing.
Medical and industrial uses of 3D printing
3D printing is being used in the medical sector to help save lives by printing organs for the human body such as livers, kidneys and hearts. Further advances and uses are being developed in the healthcare sector providing some of the biggest advances from using the technology.
3D printing can be used in knee and jaw reconstructions as every human body is different and this technique allows doctors to reconstruct exactly these specific parts, by reproducing the original shape of the bones.
3D printing of knee joints usually employs a technique called “additive manufacturing.” The printing material is applied in layers, one on top of the other, until a precise model of the natural joint has been created.
In the USA, every year, over a million people need knee replacement surgery, and that number is projected to jump up to 3.5 million by 2030 so 3D printing is becoming a preferred manufacturing method for load-bearing orthopedic implants.