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Welcome readers! In this post, we will explore the different 3D printing technologies and the models used to print designs. 3D printing has revolutionized manufacturing and allows us to create complex and intricate objects with ease. Let’s take a look at the most popular 3D printing processes and the software behind them.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
Fused deposition modeling, commonly known as FDM, is one of the most common and affordable 3D printing technologies available today. It works by heating thermoplastic filament to a semi-liquid state and then depositing it layer by layer to build an object.
|Variety of materials||Visible layer lines|
|Quick printing||Weak interlayer bonding|
Some of the most popular FDM 3D printers include the Ultimaker, Prusa i3, and Creality Ender series. They use software like Cura, Slic3r, or IdeaMaker to process 3D models into printable G-code instructions. FDM printers can use PLA, ABS, PETG, TPU, and other materials to create durable and functional parts. The layered nature of FDM printing leads to visible striations on sloping surfaces but printing with thinner layers can minimize this effect.
Stereolithography (SLA) is one of the oldest 3D printing technologies but still delivers excellent detail and smoothness. It works by using a UV laser to selectively cure and solidify a vat of photopolymer resin layer by layer until the object is complete.
|High resolution||Resin is expensive|
|Smooth surface finish||Toxic fumes|
|Accurate and intricate details||Post-processing required|
SLA 3D printers like the Formlabs Form 3 and Peopoly Phenom use software like PreForm to position and slice the 3D model. The resin allows for very intricate details, making SLA ideal for small and complex designs like jewelry, miniatures, and dental models. However, the process can produce fumes so ventilation is critical. Parts also require post-processing like washing and curing before use.
Binder jetting is an industrial 3D printing process that uses inkjet-style printheads to selectively deposit a liquid bonding agent onto a thin layer of powder. The binding agent fuses the powder grains together to form a solid part.
|Fast print speeds||Rough surface finish|
|No support structures needed||Limited materials|
|Large build volumes||Post-processing required|
Binder jet 3D printers like the ExOne InnoventX can print very large sand molds and cores for metal casting applications. It uses ExOne’s proprietary slicing software to position each layer of the build. The unfinished prints must be carefully removed from the powder bed and excess material cleaned off beforethey are ready to use. Binder jetting allows fast, efficient prints but does not match the precision of other methods.
Material jetting is an additive manufacturing process that uses inkjet printheads to precisely deposit tiny droplets of UV-curable photopolymer onto a build platform. The liquid plastic quickly cures and solidifies into the finished object.
|Very high resolution||Expensive materials|
|Multi-material capabilities||Support structures required|
|Smooth surface finish||Small build volumes|
Material jetting 3D printers like the Stratasys J750 can combine rigid and elastic materials to create realistic prototypes with different material properties. The company’s GrabCAD Print software converts 3D models into finely pixelated print data. While resolution is excellent, the number and cost of materials are limiting factors.
In summary, there are several 3D printing technologies available, each with their own advantages based on the application. FDM printers are affordable, fast, and can use a variety of materials. SLA provides the highest accuracy and surface quality ideal for detailed models. Binder jetting enables industrial-scale printing for sand casting molds. Material jetting offers multi-material capabilities for functional prototypes. The right 3D printing process depends on your specific needs and budget. Most printers use slicer programs like Cura or GrabCAD Print to translate 3D models into printer-readable G-code. As 3D printing expands, the software behind it will play an increasing role in enabling more innovations.