3D printing turns your ideas into reality. With the click of a mouse, a computer model is transmitted, and your concepts begin to take form. Technology has advanced to where 3D printing is not only available, it is affordable as well. Whether you are a hobbyist printing products at home, or an engineer building prototypes right from your desktop, Tech Edu has a product which is right for you.
The process begins with a computer model. The computer model instructs your printer on how to form the object, and can be created in a variety of ways. 3D scanning uses simple techniques to convert a physical object into a three dimensional digital model. There are also many sites on the Internet offering pre-designed products, which users can simply download and print at home. Finally, for those familiar with computer design, models can be created using one of many CAD software programs.
3D printers operate by creating objects one layer at a time. Printing from the bottom up, the machine heats a plastic filament, similar to a roll of string, and dispenses the molten plastic onto the unit’s building surface. Think of this as similar to a traditional desktop printer, however, this doesn’t only go left and right, it also moves vertically. The computer model instructs the printer head where to deposit the molten plastic, which cools and hardens almost instantly. Layer by layer, your ideas turn into tangible objects.
There are number of variables to consider when purchasing a 3D printer. With machines designed for many types of users, it is important to evaluate your requirements, and choose the product which would be best for you. 3D printing is a dynamic field, undergoing continual growth, and has something for everyone, from personal desktop units, to more complex, professional grade products.
- An important first step in selecting the right printer is asking yourself the following question: What type of product do I want?
3D printers are not all the same, and many have features geared toward specific users. At its core, the 3D printer is a tool, which you control. It can perform a simple function. It can be used to create elaborate designs. Therefore, what is right for one person, may not be right for the next.
Many people prefer a 3D printer to function like the printer for their computer – put paper in, click the mouse and receive the finished product. They want it to be a machine, with as little involvement as possible – the printer is given information, it makes the object. Beyond replacing the filament, there is little maintenance required. Many units are plug and play – just set them up, and they ready to go. They utilize highly effective proprietary software, designed to maximize the printer’s functionality, while minimizing the user’s involvement.
There are also printers for those who prefer a more hands on experience. Many models are available as unassembled kits, and can be modified as seen fit. For users who prefer to experiment with different configurations, there are 3D printers available which contain both open source hardware and software. For hobbyists and DIY’ers, this presents the opportunity to have the most modern upgrades, tuned exactly to their specifications. However, printers of this sort are not for everyone. Assembly and modifications can be both time-consuming and difficult, and can cause unnecessary frustration for those not familiar with printer construction.
An important consideration in choosing a 3D printer, is the number of extruders you would prefer. Many 3D printers operate by using a single extruder, which allows you to utilize one roll of filament at a time. Filament is a material, typically plastic, which comes on a spool and is melted to form the printed object. There are also printers which contain more than one extruder, allowing you to utilize multiple filaments simultaneously – each extruder handles one filament. By doing so, different filament types, as well as colors can be used on a single print. As seen through the picture below, you can create brilliantly colored, complex designs right in your classroom or office. Work previously reserved for specialized factories, can now be done on the desktop.
Your printer operates by forming an object, one layer at a time. The thickness of these layers is referred to as the printer’s resolution, and is measured in microns, or one thousandth of a millimeter. As the number of microns goes down, each layer becomes thinner, and the resolution becomes finer. For example, a printer featuring a 60 micron resolution, is more precise than a unit capable of 100 or 150 microns, as the layers would be roughly half as thick. Think of this like painting a wall. Using a brush is slower, but more accurate – you can get into tiny corners and have more control. Using a roller or a compressor is much faster, but you are operating in much broader strokes.
Filament is an essential component to all 3D printing. In the same way a traditional printer uses paper, a 3D printer builds your design out of filament. Depending on your needs and the type of machine you have, there are many different sizes, styles and colors to choose from.
Not all 3D printers are the same, nor are all 3D prints, therefore, it is important to select the correct filament for what you would like to do. For example, many printers are only able to work with certain materials – it is important to select a filament which is compatible with your machine. Similar to putting diesel in a vehicle that runs on gasoline, the two substances may look the same, but are not what is needed and can cause damage.
ABS and PLA are forms of plastic, and are the most common filaments used for 3D printing, however, many other options are available. LAYWOOD is a wood like substance, which can be painted and sanded, just like regular wood. You can literally print a wooden object, traditionally made by a carpenter or artist, as can be seen below.
LAYBRICK can also be painted and sanded, and has an appearance similar to stone. Nylon is also very popular, as well as polycarbonate, the same material used to manufacture bulletproof glass. The type of filament needed is really dependent on the application. For example, a figurine made at home, will have different requirements, than a part designed for a high temperature environment.
If you have any questions on which product would be best for your application, please feel free to call Tequipment at 877-571-7901, and we would be happy to assist you.