The work of a 3D printer is based on the principle of additive manufacturing. This is a technique by which objects are made by adding layer after layer until the final product takes shape (Petronzio 2013). The use of this device involves three stages; modeling, printing, and finishing. It is important to note that a computer is required during the modeling stage of 3D printing. These are the main aspects that can be distinguished.
The first step is the creation of a 3D model. This task can be done with the help of computer-aided design (CAD) software. This software is used to create original design that will be divided into digital cross-sections (Petronzio 2013). The users, who have not learned to use this software, can purchase ready-made designs from websites like Thingiverse, Sculpteo or Shapeways (Petronzio, 2013). Clients can also order customized designs from these websites. The finished model is then sent to the printer.
The digital file that contains this model has to have the extension .STL, which stands for Standard Tessellation Language. While processing the image, the printer slices it into three-dimensional polygons. When this task is done, the printing stage begins. Once the 3D file has been processed, the material and printer resolution are chosen. When these parameters are set, a gear rolls the plastic material into the print head.
The material is the string-like strand of plastic coiled in the back of the printer. This material could be either polylactic acid (PLA) or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). While in the print head, the plastic passes through a heated tube, where is melted and deposited through the nozzle to the print head. The print bed has to be warmed up when using ABS plastic to prevent the base structure from bending or coiling. On the other hand, PLA can work on any platform. This is the main advantage of this material.
The print head can move horizontally in any direction because it is supported by the X and Y axis rods. The print bed also moves along the Z axis to give the machine vertical movement. Both the print head and the print bed have stepper motors, receive signals from the processor.
The signals tell the motors the amount of rotation required to achieve a certain degree of movement. In turn, the movement of the print head is directed by the 3D file sent to the printer. The head moves horizontally above the bed laying plastic while the print bed moves vertically after each layer is complete. This process continues until a solid object emerges. It has to correspond to the parameters which are included in the 3D file.
When the printing stage is complete, the object is given a few minutes to cool down. Post-processing may also be required to remove the unwanted parts from the final product. For instance, the rough edges can be polished. Caution should be exercised because some parts may still be weak due to slow cooling.
The printed object is ready for use once proper cooling is done and the finishing touches have been applied. It should be mentioned 3D printers can be used to produce various types of products such as food or clothes. On the whole, these devices can transform various industries in the future.
Alred, G., Brusaw, C., & Oliu, W. (2010). Handbook of Technical Writing (9th Edition). Boston, MA: Bedford-St. Martin’s.
Petronzio, M. (2013). How 3D Printing Actually Works. Retrieved from https://mashable.com/2013/03/28/3d-printing-explained/