Most of us, if not all, have heard something about 3D Printing technology. Many have utilized it in some way, either for personal or professional use. If you are looking to bring this technology to your company, or just wish to learn more about it, here is some information to help you get started.

3D Printing – also known as additive manufacturing – has been deemed by some as potentially being larger than the internet. So what is 3D Printing and how can it be used?

3D Printing covers a variety of processes and technologies. The first 3D Printing process was STereoLithography and was developed by Chuck Hull in the early 1980s. Parts are created by focusing an ultraviolet (UV) laser onto a vat of photopolymer resin.

The first working 3D printer, designed by Charles W. (Chuck) Hull of 3D Systems Corp., used the stereolithography technique.

Scott Crump invented the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) process in the late 1980s, which has become the most widely used process today. This involves extruding a semi-molten filament of plastic onto the build platen. Another process is Polyjet, where UV light cures tiny droplets of photopolymers as they are jetted onto a build surface. What these processes have in common is that they are building parts layer by layer in an additive process, rather than a traditionally subtractive process, like machining a part from a block of material.

The basic file needed for producing a 3D Printed part is an STL file. An STL (STereoLithography) is a file format native to the stereolithography CAD software created by Chuck Hull of 3D Systems. STL has several after-the-fact backronyms such as “Standard Triangle Language” and “Standard Tessellation Language”. The STL file is exported from the 3D CAD Software.

A great place to learn about CAD Software and basic printing would be your local library. The Fayetteville Free Library in Fayetteville, NY has free classes on SOLIDWORKS and 3D Printing Design:

One of the key benefits of 3D Printing is that it increases the freedom of design. In traditional subtractive manufacturing, the designer must create a 3D drawing based on the subtractive process capability at hand. Essentially, the part must be designed according to the machine tools being utilized to form the part from a solid block. Machining can result in up to 90% of the original block of material being wasted.

In contrast, 3D Printing is an enabling technology that encourages and drives innovation with unprecedented design freedom while being a tool-less process that reduces prohibitive costs and lead times. Components can be designed specifically to avoid assembly requirements with intricate geometry and complex features created at no extra cost. 3D Printing is also emerging as an energy-efficient technology that can provide environmental efficiencies in terms of both the manufacturing process itself, utilizing up to 90% of standard materials, and throughout the product’s operating life, through lighter and stronger design.

In recent years, 3D Printing has gone beyond being an industrial prototyping and manufacturing process as the technology has become more accessible to small companies and even individuals. Smaller desktop printers can be acquired for under $1000. This has opened the technology to a much wider audience. As adoption rate continues, more and more systems, materials, applications and services are being created.

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