3D printing has recently become a household term and is finding more and more consumer acceptance. As this technology progresses and the cost of printing reduces, 3D printers have revolutionized how we manufacture things. You’ve probably heard about the potential of 3D printing in healthcare, automotive, aerospace, and several other industries.
Small businesses are also taking advantage of this cutting edge technology to gain a competitive advantage over more established competitors. In this article, we are going to offer insights into the reality of this technology, including the processes involved, materials, applications, and much more. But before we get into the nitty-gritty of 3D printing, you may be wondering what exactly is 3D printing.
Well, at its most basic, it’s a manufacturing process whereby materials are laid down layer by layer to create 3D solid objects. The creation of 3D printed parts is achieved using an additive process, which is why this process is also known by the umbrella term Additive Manufacturing. This is the exact opposite of subtractive manufacturing –the traditional way of manufacturing objects –where the final product is cut from a larger block of material much like how a sculptor cuts away clay.
From this description, we can see that engineers and product designers upload a digital (CAD) file to a 3D printer, which is then able to create complex shapes but with less material wastage than traditional manufacturing methods. To simplify the concept of 3D printing, think of the process of building something automatically using Lego blocks.
Basics of 3D Technology?
3D printing encompasses many forms of technologies that bring about different printer cost, accuracy levels, quality, speed levels, practicality, and user expectations among other things. Some only print text while others print texts and graphics.
The materials used and the way different machines extrude ink also vary. Last, but not least, some 3D printers are smarter than others. Below, we look at the different 3D printing technologies along with the processes involved with each, their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their applications.
What Is The Most Common Type Of 3D Printing?
There are so many 3D printing solutions available, which can make the process of choosing one a bit difficult. What technology is suitable for your particular application? What equipment and level of training do you need to get started?
What materials are required? What of costs and return on investment? These are some of the questions you’ll have when it comes to choosing a 3D printer. It’s for this reason that we have prepared a guide to the most common type of 3D printing to help you get started:
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
FDM is among the oldest and most widespread 3D printing technologies in the world. It uses a process known as Material Extrusion whereby a spool of filament is fed into a 3D printer and then pushed through a heated nozzle where it melts. The material takes a semi-liquid state and is extruded via the printer’s extrusion head, which deposits tiny layers of the printing material on a build platform.
The printer filaments then cool and solidify to form a solid 3D object. FDM uses a range of production-grade thermoplastics such as ABS, PLA, and their various blends, as well as carbon, fiber, and even wood. This makes it ideal for various at-home and industrial applications, including printing operational prototypes, as well as ready-for-use products like Lego, plastic gears, etc.
There are countless of FDM printers out there, so much so that if you’ve ever seen one or considered buying one, chances are that it was an FDM printer. It is the most user-friendly forms of 3D printing and one of the cheapest options on this list. On the limitations side, FDM has a lower resolution and accuracy level compared to other popular 3D printing technologies, which makes it unsuitable for printing complex designs and even parts with intricate features. You may need mechanical and chemical polishing processes to obtain high-quality finishes.
SLA was the first 3D printing technology to be developed and has stood the test of time as it’s still among the most used 3D printing technologies for professionals today. It uses a process known as Vat Polymerization whereby a printing material called photopolymer resin is placed in a tank (or vat) with a transparent bottom.
The material is then gradually exposed to a UV laser beam, one layer at a time. The light source cures and hardens the printing material, building it up layer by layer into the desired shape/design. The 3D printed item is usually washed with isopropyl alcohol to remove any excess/unhardened resin. It is also common to post-cure the object in an ultraviolet oven to make it stronger and more stable.
This technology is particularly interesting due to the fact that it uses thermoset polymer resins, which are available in many varieties depending on the application. SLA is also one of the most precise technologies in the world of 3D printing. It is able to create models with the finest details with an accuracy level ranging from 0.1 mm to 0.2 mm.
So, if you are wondering what is the most accurate 3D printing technology, look no further than SLA printers. This makes SLA best-suited for making products in the medical, jewelry, aerospace, entertainment, and automotive industries, just to name a few.
One downside to using SLA printers is they are more costly than their FDM counterparts. Also, they need to be handled with care since the resin used is very toxic and not suitable for inexperienced users.
Digital Light Processing (DLP)
This 3D printing technology is quite similar to SLA in that it also works with photopolymers. However, while SLA makes use of a UV laser beam, DLP uses a more conventional light source like arc lamps together with an LCD (liquid crystal display) panel. This allows for a large amount of light to be directed onto the surface to cure and harden more printing material quickly.
DLP has faster build speeds compared to SLA because it exposes the entire layers at once. A UV laser beam, on the other hand, has to draw out each of these layers. It is for this reason that DLP is frequently used for rapid prototyping. It is also well-suited for low-volume production runs of plastic parts.
Another plus point for this 3D printing technology is that it produces high-resolution, robust models every time. It also offers decent accuracy and a more smooth surface finish compared to the standard desktop FDM printer. Lastly, it’s economical and has the ability to use cheaper materials for even detailed and complex designs. This will keep printing costs low and also reduce waste.
That being said, DLP models are limited by being brittle, which makes them unsuitable for use as mechanical parts.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
This is the most common 3D printing technology for industrial applications. It is trusted by manufactures and engineers across different sectors for producing strong, functional parts. How does 3D printer work with SLS technology?
Well, it’s a form of Powder Bed Fusion technology that utilizes high-powered CO2 lasers to fuse particles of thermoplastic powder together to form a solid object. The most common materials used in this 3D printing technology are Thermoplastic Elastomers for rubber-like parts, as well as Nylon/Polyamide that can be filled with fiber, glass, or other additives.
SLS is commonly used in the manufacture of functional parts and is also ideal for complex geometrics. The wide variety of available materials makes this technology popular for printing customized objects. Items produced with SLS have excellent mechanical features with strength resembling that of injection molded parts. Unlike the 3D printing technologies discussed above, this one doesn’t require dedicated support structures since the unfused powder supports the object that has been sintered.
Under limitations, SLS requires longer lead times; not to mention it’s costlier than the standard FDM printers.
While the above are the most common 3D printing technologies, there are so many more out there that you can take advantage of, including Electron Beam Melting (EBM), Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM), Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), PolyJet, Material Jetting (MJ), and Selective Laser Melting, just to name a few. The truth is each 3D printing technology has its own requirements, strengths and weaknesses, and is suitable for different applications.
If you are ready to jump in and purchase a 3D printer for yourself or business, check out our guide on the best 3D printers for home business. Ultimately, you should choose a 3D printer that makes the most sense for your business.
How Much Money Does 3D Printer Cost?
The prices of these technologies have dropped significantly in recent times and are now available in compact, affordable systems. The cheapest consumer 3D printers like FDM and resin-based SLA printers start at around $200 but if you’re looking for a more reliable model with better quality prints expect to spend from $700-900.
Then there are 3D printers that go well over $3,000. Needless to say, the higher the cost, the more features and higher quality prints you’ll get. That being said, metal 3D Printers are still far from becoming affordable for startups.
Their starting price easily eclipses the $50,000 mark, although certain extrusion type metal printers are cheaper but don’t produce as high-quality prints. For this reason, it’s only advisable to invest in such printers if your business requires and can afford such an investment.
In addition to the initial investment, it’s important to consider other costs that come with owning a particular 3D printer. FDM printers tend to have a lower running cost and are the easiest to maintain in the long-run.
The filaments required will vary in cost depending on the material but they are generally cheaper than liquid resins. That being said, price shouldn’t be the only deciding factor when making a purchase. Check out our guide on choosing a 3D printer for your business to know what else to consider.
Can You Make Money with 3D Printer?
The invention of 3D printing technology has not only revolutionized the world of manufacturing but has also created many new avenues for innovative entrepreneurs.
Despite being around for many years, this technology is still a new concept to many people. Plus, not everyone has a 3D printer at home. This gives you the opportunity to use your expertise to earn money with 3D printer. Here are some of the ways to make money 3d printers:
Sell Print-Ready 3D Models
The simplest and cheapest way of making money with 3D printer is to design 3D prints for selling. 3D designing is such a complex task. Even those who own 3D printers have trouble with it and are ready to pay for print-ready 3D models, not to mention leading 3D printing companies are always on the look-out for new designs.
This can be a promising opportunity if you are a skilled designer, and the best part is you don’t even need to own a 3D printer. There are several online channels for selling 3D designs and the most popular one being Shapeways.
Sell Your 3D Prints
This is the second way to make money at home with 3D printer. Once you have a 3D printer you can start engineering and printing 3D models for sale. From homemade products and personalized crafts to high fashion jewelry, board games, lawn ornaments, 3D portraits, custom parts for different equipment, and even 3D model of the human facial skeleton, there’s no shortage of things you can print for sale. It all depends on your level of expertise.
There are several great ways to sell your 3D products offline. From garage sales to fair and craft shows, the one you use will depend on your budget, time constraints, level of commitment, and other factors. Better yet, move your 3D printing business online.
You can sell these prints anywhere, be it on social media, popular e-commerce platforms like Shopify, eBay, or Etsy, or even on sites that are exclusive to 3D printing like Shapeways, 3D Hubs, and I.materialize. You can later design your own website and integrate e-commerce capabilities. This will give you full control over your products and marketing strategies.
Unlike big businesses and firms, small businesses and local engineering firms are yet to adopt 3D printing technology to build prototypes, thus providing a great opportunity for you to earn money with 3D printer. If you’re good at 3D designing and printing, you can approach them to help with 3D printing prototypes.
This service is in high demand among businesses and professionals that work in construction, engineering, architecture, and design, among others. Keep in mind that your 3D printing skills must be that of an expert if you’re seeking to offer services in 3D printing prototypes.
Offer 3D Printing Courses
As the future of manufacturing slowly and gradually moves towards 3D printing, lots of people are increasingly becoming interested in this technology. Businesses and schools are willing to pay experts to teach their employees and students everything there is to know about 3D printing. Social media sites and job offer websites are a great place to start advertising your teaching services.
Invest In A 3D Printing Business
The 3D printing industry is growing exponentially with the current global 3D printing market size valued at over US$10 Billion. This opens up another huge venue for making money with 3D printer.
Instead of designing and printing 3D models for sale, you can invest in one of the many 3D printing stocks. Some of the best ones include Stratasys (SSYS), 3D Systems (DDD), Proto Labs Inc. (PRLB), and Materialize (MTLS). You can also invest in companies that produce 3D printers like HP.
This process is a simple as buying shares from one of these reputable companies and waiting for dividends. But like any other stock-buying venture, you need to do a lot of research to get the best possible deal.
There’s so much more to learn about 3D printing but if you’ve read this article from top to bottom you definitely have a better understanding of this technology. Questions like how effective are 3D printers, 3D printer how do they work, how can I make money with 3D printer, and what technology is used in 3D printing have well been covered throughout this text.
Be sure to revisit any section of this article and other articles on our site about 3D printing if you need a refresher. We look forward to hearing from you on the comments section below!.
Like this article? Then you would definitely love our other article about Best High Resolution 3D Scanners For Small Objects in 2021