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3D printing and retailing

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3D printing and retailing

The debates surrounding 3D printing are, in many ways, essential to its development. Yet, before you pick a side and dive into the affray, it is worth knowing what the technology is actually all about. In other words, you need an answer to the question:

What is 3D printing?


Its Additive Manufacturing 

3D printing is one of the few examples of a successful additive manufacturing process. Traditionally, manufacturing products is a subtractive procedure – you begin with a piece of material, say a large sheet of metal, then reduce its size and alter its shape by slicing away parts of it in order to create a finished item, say the frame of an automobile. Additive manufacturing works the opposite way. You begin with nothing then add the material in the specific shape until you have your intended product.

Though machines vary, the basic 3D printer will consist of an extruder, through which the heated material is transferred to a platform below. The point of the extruder will make a series of passes, adding layer upon layer until the object is created. Those passes will match a blueprinted image of the object, usually created using computer aided design or some other form of digital modelling software.

How does 3D printing work? Everything you want to know about 3D printing in 5 easy steps

While debate rages on technology forums across the web about if, when and how 3D printing will change life as we know it, the big question most people want to be answered about this most hyped of hyperbolic technologies is a much more straightforward one: how, exactly, does 3D printing work? And, believe it or not, the answer is much more straightforward than you might imagine. The truth is that everybody designing and printing 3D objects.

Step One: Decide what you want to make - up to you!

It would take a very unimaginative soul indeed to hear about the mind-bending potential of 3D printing and not think ‘I’d really like to give that a go.’ Yet ask people what, exactly, they would make with access to a 3D printer and chances are they have less of a clear idea. If you are new to the technology, then the first thing to know is you should believe the hype: just about anything and everything can and will be made on one of these things. Google ‘weirdest/ craziest/ stupidest/ scariest things made on a 3D printer’ and see how many results are served up. The only things holding you back are your budget and your ambition.

Step Two: Design your object

So, yes, there is kind of another thing holding you back when it comes to 3D printing and it’s a biggie: your design ability. 3D models are designed on animated modelling software or Computer Aided Design tools. Finding these is easy – there’s plenty of free ones online suitable for beginners including Google Sketchup, 3DTin, Tinkercard and Blender. Though the basics are easy enough to pick up, you probably won’t be able to create a truly print-worthy design until you’ve had a few weeks of dedicated training.

There are plenty of programmes out there for pros. Among the top rated are DesignCAD 3D Max, Punch!, SmartDraw and TurboCAD Deluxe, all of which will set you back a hundred dollars or more.

The basic process of all software will be similar. You build a blueprint, bit by bit, for your three-dimensional model, which the programme divides up into layers. It is these layers that make it possible for your printer to create the object utilising the ‘additive manufacturing’ process (more on that later). This can be a painstaking process and, if you really want to make something worthwhile, it should be. Getting dimensions, shape and size perfect will be make-or-break when you eventually send your design to the printer.

Step Three: Choose your printer

The kind of 3D printer you use will depend very much on the kind of object you are looking to create. There are approximately 120 desktop 3D print machines available right now and that number is growing. Among the big names are the Makerbot Replicator 2x (trusted), the ORD Bot Hadron (affordable) and the Formlabs Form 1 (exceptional). This is the tip of the iceberg, however.

Price-wise you are looking at anything between a little below a grand for a basic model, all the way up to $50,000 for an expert piece of kit. Then, of course, you have the large-scale, industrial machines, like the gargantuan KamerMakerthat is big enough to print an entire room and Enrico Dini’s D-Shape.

Step Four: Choose your material

Perhaps the most exciting thing about the 3D printing process is the incredible variety of materials you can print in. Plastic, stainless steel, rubber, ceramics, silver, gold, chocolate – the list goes on and on. The real question here is how much detail, thickness, and quality you require. And, of course, how edible you want your object to be.

Step Five: Press Print

Once you kick the printer into gear it proceeds to release your chosen material to the machine’s building plate or platform. Different printers use different methods but a common one is the spraying or squeezing of the material from a heated extruder through a small hole. It then makes a series of passes over the plate below, adding layer after layer in accordance with the blueprint. These layers are measured in microns (micrometers). The average layer is about 100 microns, though top end machines can add layers as slight and ombine to one unit or model.

Source and further reading:What is 3D printing? Posted By David Martin on Aug 19, 2013 in 3D Printing Guides -

Source and further reading:How does 3D printing work? Everything you want to know about 3D printing in 5 easy steps - Posted By David Martin on Aug 15, 2013 in 3D Printing Guides -  


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