3D Printing: How It Works and What Is Possible

In the last week I’ve gotten into a new habit of introducing myself.  It goes something like this, “Hi! I’m Sebastian.  Do you know anything about 3D printing?”  Nerdy, I know.  Haven’t been getting that many girls numbers with this strategy…but at the same time it has paid off.  Doing so helped me find a 3D Printing and Content Scanning lecture at the Microsoft center in Cambridge where I met the CEO of a local Boston ceramics printing company, who invited me to come by the factory.  There have been a few other connections I’ve been able to make thus far in the industry; however, the most common response when I bring up the subject is a sincere “huh?”

Many people are unaware of what 3D printing is or how it works.  And I’m not saying this with an attitude – I was in the dark on the subject until just last week.  As I’ve said in some recent posts, though, I truly see this as a revolutionary technology.  So, here is a as easy to understand description as I can write on how 3D printing works, as well as pictures of some of the most awesome work I’ve seen printed.

How It Works In 3 Steps:

a) The very first step is modeling your design on a computer.  There are many 3D design programs out there, and learning how to use one of them is the key to the kingdom of 3D printing (unless you want to pay someone to create you designs for you).

b) Once you have your 3D design, you can submit it to a printing company, some of which print in a variety of different materials.  The company [check out Shapeways, Sculpteo or Thingiverse] will then load your design and send you a quote on how much it will cost depending on the material.

c) Now, you give them the O.K. and the printer starts its magic.  How it prints you item though (in this case plastic/resin) is layer, by layer, by layer.  Imagine if you took a coffee mug and sliced it into a thousand layers paper thin.  That is how the printer works.  It builds your design ground up at around .1 millimeters per layer – some printers even more accurate then that.  After that they can pick it up, box it up, and ship it out!

Here are some examples of what is possible:

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Complex patterns can be printed in elastoplastic materials which are similar to fabrics. Why not print clothing PERFECTLY fitted to a body scan?

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Prosthetic limbs can be printed on site and to order at hospitals that invest in the technology.

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Complex mechanical designs such as Strandbeests are brought to life!

atomguitar

This is just a guitar body, and a beautiful one at that. However, fully functioning instruments such as horns and such have been printed.

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This wire frame Mobius strip is an excellent example of a beautiful and organic design which very well may be impossible to create were it not for 3D printing.

3D-Printed-Bike

Yup…a bicycle.

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And even everyday tools like scissors and knives.

The method I explained above is only one type of printing method.  Check out the following links for how it works with different materials:

Metal Printing

Ceramic Printing

Plastic Printing

-Sepp

 

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