What is 3D Printing? 2017-07-02T13:02:27+00:00

Guide: Intro to 3D Printing & Why You Should Learn It Today

What Is 3D Printing?

What is 3D printing?  Simply put, 3D printing is a manufacturing process.  Like casting, molding, forming, machining, or joining, 3D printing is a tool that allows us to make objects by adding material.  3D printing isn’t limited to one patented technology, material, hardware, or software.  In fact, there are over a dozen patented technologies that are “3D printing”.  It’s applications span home and industrial use and nearly every creative discipline.  This broad term, “3D printing”, is often used interchangeably with the term “additive manufacturing”.   Although there are subtle nomenclatural differences, I will use the terms “3D Printing” and “Additive Manufacturing” (AM) interchangeably in this guide as well.

3D printing is done layer by layer, one layer at a time – by either melting and extruding material, curing material, binding, laminating, or sintering.  These individual cross-sections, of which the layer thickness is usually measured in microns, are layered on top of each other until the 3d printed object emerges.

Defining 3D Printing

From Wikipedia:

“3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), refers to processes used to synthesize a three-dimensional object[1] in which successive layers of material are formed under computer control to create an object.[2]Objects can be of almost any shape or geometry and are produced using digital model data from a 3D model or another electronic data source such as an Additive Manufacturing File (AMF) file”

Just as “3D printing” is an umbrella term that describes many additive manufacturing technologies, “digital fabrication” is a term that describes many manufacturing methods, including 3d printing. Within the field of digital fabrication, there is also a distinction between additive manufacturing and subtractive manufacturing.  Whereas additive manufacturing adds material where necessary, the converse is true for subtractive manufacturing: material is removed where not necessary.

What all digital fabrication technologies have in common, is that they produce physical objects using machines that read digitally designed CAD (computer aided design) files.  Although the means of achieving physical production vary between digital manufacturing techniques, the common thread is this:  in order to produce or alter a physical part, a digital design file is made which functions as an instructional blueprint telling a machine what specific moves to make in order to add or remove material.

Subtractive Digital Fabrication Methods

CNC Machining:  Computer numerically controlled machining, or CNC machining, are computer controlled machines that use rotary bits to remove material from a sheet or block of raw material.  Frequently CNC machines are used in more industrial uses, rather than home uses.  This is a subtractive process.

Laser Cutting:  Laser cutting machines use a computer controlled, high powered CO2 laser to cut through, or engrave, sheets of material.   The laser typically has an adjustable speed and power to calibrate settings for specific materials.  Typical materials used in the laser cutting process include wood, chipboard, cardboard, museum board, acrylic and plexiglass.  The computer files that are used for laser cutting are two dimensional vector file (such as Illustrator or AutoCAD files).  These line paths direct the laser on a XY gantry to cut/ engrave precisely.

What Are People 3D Printing?

Although there are a wide range of 3d printing applications from now nearly every creative discipline, most applications will fall into one of the following categories:

  • Prototype/ Design Iteration
  • Custom One-Off or Low Run Objects
  • Presentation or Mockup Models
  • A Finished Product

Some of the most accurate data we have on 3d printing comes from the company, 3D Hubs.  Every quarter, they poll their community and get a sample of nearly 9,000 3d printer owners.  Their polling reveals some interesting findings about what people today are making on their 3d printers.

In order of descending volume, you can see most people print prototypes, followed by hobbyist/ “do it yourself” projects, gadget accessories, and then scale models.

We’ll dive more into cost later, but from the 3D Hubs data, here are their average order value numbers.  Typically, prototypes and scale models are more likely to be printed by businesses, which represents the higher average order value.

What Industries are Using 3D Printing?

What industries use 3d printing?  Well, today it would be harder to find industries in which 3d printing was not used.

Industries that use 3d printing:

  • Industrial/ Product Designers
  • Architects
  • Jewelry Designers
  • Engineers
  • Toy Designers
  • Artists and Animators
  • Research Scientists and Medial Professionals
  • Fashion Designers
  • Hobbyists and Tinkerers

Nearly every creative discipline uses 3d printing.  Industrial designers use 3d printing to prototype product designs and accelerate their design cycle.  Walk in any product design studio today, and you will more likely than not see a desktop 3d printer in action.  Architects use 3d printing to build both internal mockups and presentation models for clients.  Jewelry designers are using 3d printing as an integral part of the casting process.   Animators are using 3d printing in films.  These were all industries that were already using CAD, or computer aided design, so the leap to using 3d printing was a natural progression.

In other industries, 3d printing has presented other unique opportunities.  Advertising agencies are using 3d printing to make highly custom and unique objects for campaigns.  Scientists are using 3d printed models from 3d scan data of patients to practice surgical procedures.

At home, hobbyists are making figurines, tech and drone accessories, inventing new everyday products – and creating improvements to existing ones.

In education, more and more classrooms are using 3d printing as part of a curriculum.

And in enterprise and industrial applications, engineers are 3d printing end use parts for airplanes that are lighter, stronger, and more efficient.

In the job market, more employers are looking for job applicants with knowledge of 3d printing.  In fact, the number of jobs in the past 4 years requiring knowledge of 3d design and digital manufacturing has increased 1,834%

Thank you for joining this class – we’ll dive into all this and more in the upcoming modules to give you all the information you need to get started.