3 dimensional prints – idea excited me to the extent that I thought of writing an article. Is it printing? Is it manufacturing? What is it?

Usually our concept of printing was limited to documents & photographs, but the moment it goes 3 dimensional, it actually becomes an object. Isn’t that’s amazing! Just imagine, you take a photo of a cake and give a print, and the printer give you the cake you can eat. Astonishing.

That reminded me of a Jackie Chan movie “Chinese Zodiac 12”, in which he was playing a thief of old sculpture & artifacts. He posed as a National Geographic reporter to visit an ancient excavation site, found some rare ancient sculpture of the Chinese Zodiac from 12th Century, he immediately took out his gloves, wore it and scanned the whole artifact, and backend in his workshop, the data got transferred to a 3D printer, wherein the whole sculpture was recreated in his workshop.

Well those were my initial thoughts. So the obvious progression was to explore more about the technology and understand what exactly it is and how it is useful for a common man?

So we begin from the 1st step, what goes in gets processed and comes out. As the output is different, so is the input. The input can’t be a normal jpeg image / word / pdf / excel etc. like we normally do and get a 2D print on a paper. It has to be a 3 dimensional design. Like CAD / STAAD kind of software, wherein the 3D design is produced through a software that could be transferred to a printer, which would in turn actually produce the 3 dimensional object. So that’s what goes on the input side.

Now, let’s come to the real technology. What goes inside the printing technology of 3D? But before that let’s understand the age-old 2D printing. Here we’ve had inkjet (HP), bubble jet (Canon), TFP (Epson) and so on. Which means, even our today 2D printing is not restricted to one single technology. Similarly, in 3D printing as well, we have a couple of different schools of thought.

Firstly, it is important to know that, what we call as “3d printing”, is technically know as “additive manufacturing (AM)”. The concept started shaping up way back in 1980s, saw the metal tooling by 1990s and was widely accepted technology by Y2K. By 2010, AM became one of the most common technologies in the manufacturing sector and process automation plants and by now there were multiple variants of processing under the bigger umbrella of AM. Now, let’s understand them one by one.

  • Stereolithography – A process in which a liquid ultraviolet photopolymer resin is used as the printing material, like we use ink / toner in our 2D printing today and an ultraviolet laser to build the object’s layers one at a time, like we have the printer head today, which takes the command from the software and has the complete blue print of what is to be printed. The liquid polymer solidifies when exposed to the UV laser and thus the 3D model is printed layer by layer in this technology.
  • Fused deposition – In this methodology, a printing material with a low melting point is used for the making of the 3D model. The nozzle (printer head in our 2D case) is controlled by the software, which directs it with precision. The print material (ink / toner in our 2D case) is what the 3D model would be constituted of, and can be of various types like plastics, resin, metal etc., has to have a low melting point, since it is passed through the nozzle in liquid form and solidifies quickly when it come in contact with the room temperature.
  • The metal printing – technically known as Directed Energy Deposition (DED) is a process in which a multi-axis robotic arm consisting of a nozzle that deposits metal powder or wire on a surface and an energy source (laser, electron beam or plasma arc) that melts it, forming a solid object, which was feed to the system by the CAD / CAM software.
  • Binding – a yet another 3D model printing process identified under AM is the binding process. In this technique the parts of the printed layers are fused together and moving upwards, adding another layer of granules and repeating the process until the piece is built up.

All the above four technologies would be giving the same output, only the toner / ink cartridge in each process would be different. Today the technology has evolved to the extent that a 3D printer can have anything as the base ingredient, differing from manufacturer to manufacturer, a 3D printer can print from ceramic to metal to photopolymer to plastic to paper to film…practically anything. And the size may also vary, from precision printing in nano format till huge hoarding kind of large printings, for all sizes, we have 3D printers available today. And the industry has embraced the technology with open arms too. From fashion to automobile, from medical / health care to aviation industry, every industry is using 3D modeling and designing through these 3D printers.

Imagine the extent to which the 3D print idea has gone, when we had 3D designing pens also coming in the market today. Yes, today you can order a 3D pen from amazon. You can draw a 3D design today using a 3D pen, and when you create would depend upon the refill you have in the pen. For sure it comes in multiple colors and multiple material too. Did you know that instead of buying a ruby’s cube, you could actually make one yourself?

 

That is our fascination with 3D world. In fact, if you have talent and practice, you can actually start making miniatures for commercial purposes, just using a 3D pen! Undoubtedly, it’s a wonderful technology to use and to produce wonderful things and if master the art, even sky isn’t the limit.