What Is 3D Printing?
3D printing is a way to create physical objects directly from digital files. While digital design is nothing new, manufacturing has traditionally relied on technologies that cut objects from a larger blocks or sheets of material; or forming methods that rely on expensive molds and patterns. In contrast, 3D printing is an additive process that builds objects one layer at a time from the bottom up.
Used across industries, it complements traditional technologies to improve product design, streamline manufacturing, and even forge entirely new business models. And as its utility and accessibility increase, so does its potential to unlock innovation in countless inventors, engineers and designers and whose ideas were previously too difficult or expensive to manufacture.
How Does 3D Printing Work?
For anyone who has printed a photo or document, 3D printing should feel pretty familiar. It begins with something on your computer screen: your own 3D CAD model, one you downloaded from a sharing site, or a 3D scan from a physical object. Software slices your model into fine layers that serve as instructions for the 3D printer. Instead of ink, the 3D printer deposits a material such as plastic, wax, or liquid polymer one layer at a time until what was just data becomes substance. And because 3D printing in midair simply isn’t possible, the software also decides where support material is needed to uphold parts of the object as it builds. That material is removed after printing is complete.
How Is 3D Printing Used?
Also known as additive manufacturing , 3D printing encompasses a wide variety of methods and technologies from plastic extrusion, to polymer jetting, to laser sintering. Some technologies serve specific uses like jewelry design or dental modeling. Others span industries and produce everything from concept models and functional prototypes to manufacturing tools and production parts.
For demanding manufacturing applications, 3D production systems provide large print capacity, top-notch accuracy and highly durable materials. For highly visual applications like product design, art and special effects, multi-material 3D printing offers a range of colors and materials for astounding realism. For individual contributors and small teams, affordable desktop systems bring 3D printing right to your workspace.
Designers, engineers, artists and researchers are finding new uses for 3D printing every day – and pushing the limits of what it can do. Whether 3D printing in-house or partnering with a manufacturing service, companies are saving time and expense while advancing innovation in virtually every industry.