Thursday, 8 November 2012

3D Printing - What is it?

How about a custom made mobile/tablet case with carving of Taj or any of your favourite pictures on backside. Do you prefer having a stature of your inspirational figure instead of a photo frame on your table? 3D Printing makes it possible to make such custom made object much easier compare to current manufacturing processes, infect you can make such object at home with a desk top 3D Printer that cost just few hundred dollars.

Architect can now make models in mater of hours rather than weeks or months. You can make an informed decision on home interiors based on model and need not wait for 3 months till a carpenter make it and then regret as the actual furniture isn’t similar to what you visualized based on 2D design on paper. Also you could make a toy for your kids at home or make and replace a broken plastic part of mixer grinder, tv, music player or car parts.

What is 3D Printing/ Printer? Like the printer that we use today that takes the soft copy of document or images as an input and print it on paper. A 3D Printer takes a 3D design file of an object and builds it layer by layer and in matter of few hours you can touch and feel the real object in your hand. As of today 3D Printers are capable of creating any object using plastic, nylon, ceramics and metals (i.e copper, silver, titanium). Other limitation is the size of the object it can print; most 3D Printers could print around 10x10x10 inches object. There are printers that can do large print but it can cost significantly higher. Well, it is always possible to print the larger object in part and then assemble it.

3D Printing is about 25 year old technology used by few large manufacturers in aerospace, automobile and few other industries. Also knows as Rapid Prototyping or Additive Manufacturing process as it builds the object layer by layer and mainly used for product prototyping. About 10 years back most 3D printer used to cost > 100K USD, accessible to only large companies. However in last five to seven years because of open-source project like RepRap the price has dropped drastically. The RepRap project has made it possible for SMEs (small and medium scale industries) and even individual to buy a personal 3D Printer today.

How 3D Printer works?
A printer capable of making plastic part will take a plastic filament (1.75mm or 3mm) as source material and melts it to produces very thin wire of size 0.4mm to 0.1mm and layers it as per the shape of the object one on top of the next layer and make a real usable/prototype object. This technique is knows FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) or FFM (Fused filament modeling).  Some printers use material in powder form and uses laser or adhesive to bind it to create thin layer, it makes multiple such layers to create the final object. The FDM is relatively a low cost technology compare to other techniques.  The RepRap open source printer uses the FDM technology.

How much it cost?

There are two factors that decide the cost of a 3D Printer its capability to handle the material (plastic, resin, nylon, metal or ceramics etc) and size of build platform (decides the max size of an object). For example a printer that can print plastic parts cost much cheaper compare to the one that can print metal parts. Commercial printer using plastic material and build platform between 6x6x6 to 10x10x10 inches cost around 10-30K USD while a RepRap printer cost just  500 to 3000 USD. It seems like open source software, trend for open source manufacturing is slowly picking up. See this video to know more on open source h/w and use of RepRap for bio-printing. 

3D Printing Process flow
      (1)   Design an object using 3D design s/w or download it from the internet
      (2)   Slice the object using Slicer s/w, that create thin slices of 0.1 to 0.4 mm
      (3)   Feed the Slicer o/p file (gcode) to 3D Printer and Print an object

Here are some examples of what is possible with 3D Printer?

  • An Architect can print their design in matter of hours that helps them sell their ideas to customer
  • 3d Printed plastic models are robust and durable that can help builders carry their model to property shows across cities and countries

  • Doctors using it to make the 3D model of the complex surgical procedure like operation of a conjoined twins. The printed model is used for practice and discussion with other doctors to figure out the best procedure for operation.
  • Most hearing aid mold are printed using 3D Printer now days
  • It is used to create custom orthopedic implants (i.e. prosthetics, knee cap etc.) and dental implants like crown, bridge and caps

  • 3D Printer allows students to develop tangible design and engineering skills
  • Many working model or miniature of large machines like lathe, wobbler engine etc. It can be of great help to student in understanding the concepts and innovation. See these videos of 3D Printed working model of Printed Lathe, Wobbler Engine, Planetary gear set, Steam Engine,V8 Engine
  • 3d printer is a perfect innovation tool that empowers everyone to put their design ideas to something tangible.
  • it is used for Jwelery design, it is possible to print silvery jewelry as of today
  • It is possible to print Chocolate or Cake using a 3D Printer
  • Designers have made 3D Printed Bikinis too, do google if you want to see a picture J
  • In London 3D Print show, a band had perform using 3D Printed musical instruments
  • Take a scan of anything and print it yourself for example your favorite sculpture in museum, a toy or a broken car part

  • US Army has developed mobile lab equipped with printers, so that army can print required parts on the field without waiting for it to be shipped from US. US has already deployed one such lab in Afghanistan.

What lies in future?
-          Manufacturer may ask you to download the part design and print it yourself or get it printed from local print-lab
-          Nike may offer you custom made shoes that gives you 100% comfort fit
-          You may not buy Fisherprise toys from department store (i.e. Shopperstop or LifeStyle), instead buy a design from and get it printed locally
-          It might be possible to print the complete iPhone including electronics
-          Printing of human organs like liver or kidney,
-          NASA is exploring the use of 3D printer in space, so that Astronauts can print required parts in space and don’t need to wait for next shuttle

if you like this blog and want to know more about 3D Printing and other interesting technology stay tune. 

1 comment:

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