3D Printer or additive manufacturing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file.

3D printing is the opposite of subtractive manufacturing which is cutting out / hollowing out a piece of metal or plastic with for instance a milling machine.

3D printing enables you to produce complex shapes using less material than traditional manufacturing methods.

How Does 3D Printing Work?

It all starts with a 3D model. You create one yourself or download it from a 3D repository. When creating it yourself you can choose to use a 3D scanner, app, haptic device, code or 3D modeling software.

3D Modeling Software

There are many different 3D modeling software tools available. Industrial grade software can easily cost thousands a year per license, but there’s also open source software you can get for free.

Tinkercad offers beginner lessons and has a built-in feature to get your 3D model printed via a 3D print service.

Now that you have a 3D model, the next step is to prepare the file for your 3D printer. (SLICING)

Slicing: From 3D Model to 3D Printer

Also, slicing is dividing a 3D model into hundreds or thousands of horizontal layers and is done with slicing software.

As a matter of fact, some 3D printers have a built-in slicer and let you feed the raw .stl, .obj or even CAD file.

When your file is slice, it’s ready to be fed to your 3D printer. This can be done via USB, SD or internet.

Your slice 3D model is now ready to be 3D printed layer by layer.

3D Printing Industry

Adoption of 3D printing has reached critical mass as those who have yet to integrate additive manufacturing somewhere in their supply chain are now part of an ever-shrinking minority.

Where 3D printing was only suitable for prototyping and one-off manufacturing in the early stages, it is now rapidly transforming into a production technology.

Most of the current demand for 3D printing is industrial in nature. Wohlers expects that the global 3D printing industry will exceed $15 billion in revenue by 2020.

The company expects that revenue forecast to climb to $23.9 billion in 2022, and $35.6 billion in 2024.
Source: Wohlers Report 2019

As it evolves, 3D printing technology is destined to transform almost every major industry and change the way we live, work, and play in the future.

Examples of 3D Printing

3D printing encompasses many forms of technologies and materials as 3D printing is being use in almost all industries you could think of.

It’s important to see it as a cluster of diverse industries with a myriad of different applications.

A few examples:

  • dental products
  • eyewear
  • architectural scale models & maquettes
  • prosthetics
  • movie props
  • design (lamps, furniture etc)
  • reconstructing fossils in paleontology
  • replicating ancient artifacts in archaeology
  • reconstructing bones and body parts in forensic pathology
  • reconstructing heavily damaged evidence retrieved from a crime scene
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