These high end printers deliver the best quality builds but cost much more to buy. They are aimed at companies and professionals.
These printers are designed to be used at home. They are more affordable and easier to work.
These are generally the cheapest printers on the market but they require a certain level of technical know-how to construct and install.
These printers are specially designed for children and consequently are easier to install and operate. They are not generally too expensive.
Specifications, prices and designs of 3D Printers vary with some small enough to sit on your desk, and others massive enough to print building components. The materials employed vary as well, with some using molten metal and others printing out liquid concrete. Many combine a variety of materials, enabling the construction of pre-assembled complex objects with moving parts and even integrating electronic components.
Aplications of 3D Printing
These machines have obvious applications in architecture and product design, allowing designers to print complex prototypes at the push of a button, and they are already widely adopted in these industries. However it also has applications in a wide variety of other fields including industrial design, engineering and construction, automotive, aerospace, dental and medical industries, education, civil engineering, fashion, jewelry and footwear, amongst others.
Here are some real-world examples demonstrating the applications:
If the handle on a householder's washing machine broke in the days before 3D printers, they would have to order a new part and wait for it to be delivered. Now, they could go online and download a 3D file, and print a replacement there and then. If they owned a 3D scanner they could scan the object, creating the 3D file themselves.
The same principal applies to just about any simple object, with consumers able to purchase the design online and print them at home. This could revolutionise manufacturing, reducing costs (as shipping, warehousing and shop storefronts are no longer required), and potentially reducing our carbon footprint.
Museums and art galleries can scan delicate objects in three dimensions and print accurate replicas, to study and display. Visitors to the gallery's website might be able to print out the object, despite being located in a different continent.
The vintage car enthusiast might scan and print rare or discontinued car parts that he or she may have otherwise been unable to obtain. See Jay Lenos 3D printer.
FDM Printers 3D
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printers extrude partially molten ABS plastic in extremely fine layers one on top of the other, forming the entire 3D model in a single piece from the ground up. The HP Designjet 3D (pictured above right) is an example of an FDM. Manufacturer Stratasys developed the FDM technique in 1988 and have been at the forefront of 3D printing technology ever since and are currently making Dimension printers.
SLS Printers 3D
Selective laser sintering (SLS) and direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) printers are similar to FDM printers in that they build up successive layers of material (plastic, metal, ceramic, or glass powders) from the ground up, however they use a high power laser to fuse small particles of the material in a granular powder bed, into a mass that has the programmed three dimensional shape. When targetted with the laser the he fine powder is set into a hard, plaster-like finish.
How Does 3D Printing Work?
To understand how 3D printers work, in their most basic form, it is useful to compare them with conventional 2D printers similar to the ones most people will have connected to their desktop computer.
A conventional 2D inkjet printer contains a print-head that is capable of releasing a dot of ink on command. The print-head is moved across a sheet of paper left to right, and gradually front to back, occasionally releasing a dot of ink. Eventually it will have moved across the entire surface of the paper, and the release of the dots of ink will have been timed in such a way that together they combine to make a recognisable picture or text.
Instead of ink, the print-head in a 3D printer releases a blob of plastic (or other material) that stands proud of the paper or printable area. You would be able to feel each dot if you ran your hand across the printable area. The print-head moves across the printable area, in the same way as a conventional printer, but once it has moved across the entire surface, the print head is raised up by a tiny amount and the process begins again. By printing a blob of material on top of the previous blobs, the printer is able to build up three dimensional shapes, a bit like you would build a wall.
Please note, there are a number of different and competing 3D printing technologies, of which the above method is just one simplified example to illustrate the general principle. The main differences are found in the way layers are built to create parts. Some methods use melting or softening material to produce the layers, e.g. selective laser sintering (SLS) and fused deposition modeling (FDM), while others lay liquid materials that are cured with different technologies.
Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. Generally, the main considerations are speed, cost, cost of the 3D printer, choice and cost of materials and colour capabilities.
What materials can you 3D print
- ABS Plastic - A strong & tough material with the highest level of dimensional accuracy.
- Polyamide - A strong and flexible material with a high level of detail.
- Alumide - Polyamide-like material with a distinctive look.
- Multicolor - A full color material.
- High detail resin - Able to produce fine details on this photopolymer.
- Paintable resin - Designed to hold paint
- Transparent resin - A see through material.
- Titanium - Light and the strongest 3D printing material in the world.
- Stainless steel - A strong and durable material
- Silver - Sterling Silver
- Gold - 18 carat solid gold.
- Prime gray - A very smooth material, detailed and “luxurious” to the touch.
- Concrete - Ideal for building material
- Glass - A powerful laser can fuse common sand to produce glass objects
- Electrical Conductors - A printer that can print electrical conductors can make its own circuit boards and other electrical products
- Food - There are printers that will print chocolate, cheese and all sorts of organics.