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3D printing is a fascinating and wonderful branch of additive manufacturing technology, but it can often be confusing to those new to it. What comes to mind when you think of 3D printing? Most people imagine colorful filaments and cute little “Benchy” prints made with FDM (fused deposition modeling, aka the thermoplastic extruding printers). These printers are both versatile and fun, but just barely scrape the surface of what falls under the umbrella of “3D printing”. Each printing method has unique properties that are best suited for different applications, and can be applied to various industrial purposes.
(3D Benchy, a popular calibration print meant to test the xyz axis extrusion and accuracy of a printer).
If you are in the Dental Industry:
The most common printers used in the dental industry are known as SLA printers. SLA stands for stereolithography, a method of 3D printing in which liquid resins are cured through a thermochemical process, layer by layer. These prints are known for their high resolution and isotropic characteristics. While FDM printing involves layers of filament extruded in lines, SLA is hardened in unique layers that then chemically interact between themselves to create well bonded materials.
SLA printers are used in conjunction with 3D scanning devices to create accurate models of teeth and gums to create crowns, plastic aligners, surgical guides, and models.
If you are in Education:
3D printing and modeling can be easily incorporated into the educational environment. Along web-based softwares such as TinkerCAD, SKETCH Classroom, and 3D Slash, students starting in elementary school can begin to experiment with 3D modeling. The addition of a classic FDM printer in the classroom setting teaches students about manufacturing and about how they can communicate between different types of technology to make their ideas into real life.
FDM printers use thermoplastics such as ABS and PLA. As the most biodegradable plastic, PLA is known for not needing a heated bed or fume hood as it does not release fumes when heated and extruded. These printers can also be fitted with covers and protective casing to prevent students from interacting with the nozzle, hot printhead, or any moving parts while in operation.
If you are in the Jewelry Industry:
Although the 3D printers generally distributed by Project 3D printers are compatible with resins and plastic filaments, one may wonder how high-end jewelry can incorporate this form of manufacturing into their workflow. While plastic jewelry isn’t typically desirable (although it may be fun), 3D printing is used to print intricate models (with design as ornate and high resolution as the printer used) in order to create molds for metal casting. These are made possible by using filaments that can be melted or removed from molds easily before metal is added. One other use of 3D printing in jewelry is creating quick, cheap prototypes for measurement and fitting.
Printers used for jewelry prototype and mold making can range from SLA, to DLP, to FDM printing, aka most types of thermoplastic extrusion or chemical-hardening resin forms of printing. The choice depends on factors such as the material intended for the design and the level of intricacy of the print (SLA tends to create higher resolution, isomorphic prints).
If you are in the Architecture/Construction Industry:
A new branch in the 3D printing industry utilizes the model of FDM printing, but rather than the typical thermoplastics used it can print concrete. These 3D printers that are typically used are on the scale of the projects being built, often the sizes of small houses. Concrete printers have been used as a form of very fast manufacturing for homes, bridges, architectural structures and art.
While concrete printers aren’t as readily available as the printers found at Project 3D Printers, they can be contracted through companies specializing in concrete printing, or even assembled by a highly skilled team.
Additionally, other forms of printing such as SLA or FDM can be used to create small scale models of 3D architectural designs that are sliced (check our article on 3D modeling) and sent to a printer.
If you are in the Engineering/Design Industry:
The use of 3D printing in the design-phase and workflow of a business allows those working to create fast-made and cheap prototypes when needed. Depending on the desires of the user, the type of printer and material used can be varied. SLA has isomorphic and continuous characteristics all over, which can be desirable for components that are to be tested or implemented in a system temporarily. FDM printers have less dimension stability that could be needed for actual use in a build, but can create even cheaper models when needed out of a variety of thermoplastics.
Additionally, there are some printers that can be rearranged and used as laser engravers and CNC machines, all in one.
Many industries can find ways to add 3D printing into their work, whether used to create the final product or as a tool to generate higher quality results in the end. The only limit to what 3D printing technology can do is what we can think up ourselves. Please feel free to reach out to us at Project 3D Printers if you have any questions about how your business or work can involve printing, or if you have any new and unique uses for 3D printing in your life!
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