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The technology for 3D Printers has been in development since the 1980’s, and it was initially called Additive Manufacturing – it still is, but 3D Printing is more catchy, and we tend to use it in its stead.
But no matter how popular it gets, commercial success is needed if we want the 3D printing industry to evolve, and live on. Additive Manufacturing companies will need to be at their utmost flexible state, because the industry is becoming more, and more competitive with each passing year.
One of the main factors of the fact that competition is rising is that 3D printing enthusiasts are witnessing affordable 3D printers for sale – and materials can be bought online. While not that cheap to acquire, we can see a big improvement since 1980.
What is Additive Manufacturing?
The process of making 3D solid objects using successive layers from digital files with the help of additive materials is called Additive Manufacturing, or for short, 3D Printing. There are quite a few various processes that will result in 3D printed objects, but we’ll go into details later on.
How does a 3D printer work?
It all sounds super high-tech, and quite frankly, it is, but it’s no rocket-science, and because it’s not, 3D printers have witnessed a surge of popularity in the past 5 years.
3D printers use the additive process in which an object is constructed by building successive layers of materials – ABS plastic, PLA, nylon, steel, wax, and the list can go on, and on – until said solid object comes to creation.
To make an idea what you can build using 3D printers, people around the world have successfully built cheap prosthesis, heart valves, ears, super-cars, toys, weapons, basically, everything you can dream of can come to life using 3D printers. You just need a 3D printer, a 3D modelling program, or a 3D scanner, and free time.
3D modelling programs can be used to create virtual designs; a CAD file is needed – it stands for Computer Aide Design which can be used by 3D printers to create solid objects. 3D modelling has changed the ways of architectural presentations – how we present drafts, diagrams, and building plans.
The most commonly used 3D modelling programs are – Blender, Google Sketch-Up, FreeCAD, 3DS Max, AutoCAD, Cloud 9, and so on, and so forth.
Early geniuses, like Leonardo Da Vinci, tried to represent ideas on papers, or by building models, but it wasn’t enough. Leonardo was incredibly limited by the era he was born in – as a fun fact, his manuscript sold in 2000-2003 for about $600 million. The buyer? None other than Bill Gates.
3D scanners employ a different tactic, and they use another kind of technology to make themselves useful. Technologies used by 3D scanners can be volumetric scanning, structured/modulated light, time-of-flight, and many others.
If you own an Xbox 360 with a Kinect, then you are the proud owner of a 3D scanner – although, you’ll need to do some tweaking if you want to use it for 3D printing. Prices for these 3D scanners vary from – you need to sell a kidney to buy one, to dirt cheap. Of course, the very expensive industrial devices are equipped with more features than your average $30 device.
These 3D scanners slice the object into thousands, even hundreds of thousands of horizontal layers which they will use to recreate the virtual design. Afterwards, you can upload those slices to the 3D printer and it will create the desired object – layer by layer.
You may be enticed to think that layers will be visible, because of how the building process works, but it blends them so well, that there are hardly any visible signs.
How much is a 3D printer?
Prices vary from $300 to $850,000 – I want to note that the cheapest 3D printer I have ever seen was $250.
No, these are not outrageous prices. Super-cars have been built using 3D printers, advancements in medicine are possible due to 3D printers. An industrial device that can output the highest quality, at the fastest speed, more so, using our current tech, is indeed pricey, but it’s totally worth it.
An affordable 3D printer that will last longer than a housefly’s lifespan will cost you somewhere between $500, and $2,000. Going over the $2,000 mark is recommended for those who are accustomed to the 3D printing medium.
If you’re just starting this as your new hobby, or you just want to try it out to feel in the loop with the world, a $500 3D printer will more than suffice. I highly recommend you to not buy them off of Craigslist, even though that 3D Printer for Sale that stands at $300 looks appealing. Buy a new one, and break it in, you’ll thank me later when it doesn’t crash, and burn on you.
Also, there are 3D printing companies that offer 3D printing services. They are affordable, and to be honest, if you’re project isn’t kept under a tight lid, you should use these kind of companies, and services to get some workload off of your shoulders. The top 3D printing companies are: Stratasys, Shapeways, and 3DSystems.
Disclaimer: I’ve picked those 3D printing companies based on my personal experience with them, and based on the community feedback on various 3D printing forums across the web. There are others that offer an excellent service, but you have to look into them – Materialise, ExOne, Arcam, SLM Solutions, Alphaform, voxeljet, Organovo, and Renishaw.
Earlier in the article we discussed about processes and technologies, and what kind of materials can be used in order to create different 3D models – there are metal 3D printers, and there are even food 3D printers.
3D Printing Processes
- Vat Photopolymerisation
- Material Jetting
- Binder Jetting
- Material Extrusion
- Powder Bed Fusion
- Sheet Lamination
- Directed Energy Deposition
I’ll go through each and every one of them, and I’ll try to explain as best as I can what the process is – short and sweet, of course.
This processes is based on filling a container with a photopolymer resin, which will be hardened later on with a UV light source. 3D printers that use the SLA technology – Stereolitography – use this kind of process. It uses the ultra violet laser to build the object, one layer at a time, by employing said ultra violet laser, and the liquid ultraviolet curable photopolymer resin.
Vat Photopolymerisation was invented in 1986 by Charles Hull, who founded the company 3D Systems.
Similar to how a common paper inkjet printer works, Material Jetting uses droplets of materials which are pushed through a small nozzle, and afterwards, the material is used layer by layer to build the desired 3D solid object – just before ending the whole process, it is hardened by an UV light.
Binder Jetting uses two materials – something powder-based, and a liquid binder of sorts. Said powder is deployed, equally, in equal layers in the build chamber, and then the liquid binder glues everything in place – when I say everything, I refer to the particles used.
This technique was invented in 1993, and in 1995 Z Corporation got an exclusive license.
Material Extrusion is most commonly used in FDM – Fused deposition modelling, which is a method of rapid prototyping.
It employs the use of a plastic filament, and/or a metal wire – they supply the material used to a nozzle which turns on, and off the flow. This nozzle is heated, and it can melt material. Users can move the nozzle vertically, and horizontally.
Power Bed Fusion
It is used, most commonly, in SLS – Selective Laser Sintering.
This kind of tech uses a high-power laser that blends, fuses, small plastic particles – it doesn’t limit to plastic, and it can use metal, ceramic, or glass powder.
All of the unused powder can be used for later prints.
Various materials which are spread in sheets, and then are bound together using some sort of external force stand at the base of Sheet Lamination. Sheets can be comprised of metal, paper or some kind of polymer.
Directed Energy Deposition
This kind of process is used by industry giants, and is considered one of the high-tech processes of the metal industry. It is commonly paired with a robot arm that does its bidding.
These were the seven processes of 3D printing that stand true to the 2010 standard set by the American Society for Testing, and Materials – ASTM.
The thing is, 3D printing is growing each year more, and more, and 3D Printers are becoming more affordable – in the near future, every household might have one. In 2013, the industry as a whole, stood at $3.07 billion. It’s expected by 2018 the industry to reach the $12.08 billion mark, and move further than $21 billion by 2020.
3D printing might be our new industrial revolution – we have already witnessed major advancements in medicine, the automotive industry, and, go figure, aerospace, and aviation.
As I said before, 3D printers can build cheap, sturdy, and reliable prosthetics, and researchers across the world are trying to figure how to build organs using 3D printers. Tissue engineering research is still in its incipient phase, but biotech firms, and academies are working hard to achieve breakthroughs – this kind of research is referred to as bio-printing.
San Francisco-based Divergent Microfactories have announced a couple of weeks ago that they managed to build – not entirely – a 3D printed super-car. Called Blade, it can reach 60 miles per hour in just 2.5 seconds, and it is equipped with a 700 horsepower engine.
Personal 3D Printers
Personal 3D printers have evolved from huge square blocks to tiny little things that you can keep on your desk. Take for example the Makerbot Replicator 2 which weighs 11.5 kilograms, that’s 25.4 LBS. It costs $2,400, and that price tag doesn’t make it a cheap 3D printer, but it’s one of the most reliable, and popular 3D printers on the market.
Also from Makerbot, the Makerbot Replicator can be a nice addition, but this 3d printer price stands at $3,300. Worth looking into is the experimental Makerbot Replicator 2x which I found at the low price of $2,500.
Worth mentioning is Cubify, and their Cube 3D printers – they also sell 3D scanners. Their devices are more affordable than the Makerbot Replicator 2 desktop 3D Printer – prices stand at $1,000.
If you want to read more in-depth reviews about 3D printers, and the 3D printing industry, I highly recommend you take a look at our other articles for 3D Printer Reviews, Cheap 3D Printer, the Makerbot Replicator 2 Review, and 3D Printing companies.
The Makerbot Replicator 2 article consists of reviews for: Makerbot Replicator 2x Review, Makerbot Replicator Review, and, of course, the Makerbot Replicator 2 Review.
The Makerbot Replicator 3D printer isn’t the most affordable one on the market, but if you have gotten pass your hobby phase, and it’s becoming more of a job, I highly recommend it.
We don’t really know what the future for 3D printers holds for us. We only know that, if humanity plays its cards right, we might have a glorious gold-age.
Key players from the 3D printing industry have confirmed that additive manufacturing might help the economy grow better, larger, and more stable, because it gives everyone the chance of building something, and with the help of the internet, and its e-commerce platforms, users can sell their stuff directly, without employing a third party.
3D printers that use different colors exist – more so, in the 3D printing food industry, but they aren’t that commercially viable – they cost way too much for your average households, and even restaurants don’t use them because the fancy gimmick isn’t worth that much. It has tremendous potential, but it can’t be used right now.
As a little bonus, this 3D food printer that costs about $5,000 blends sugar, water, cocoa powder, milk powder, and cocoa butter to create the most sweetest things ever.
The first cogs for open fabrication have been put into motion, time will tell if the 3D printing industry will actually reach the $21 billion revenue by 2020, or it will fall. It’s an emerging technology, and it deserves our support.