What You Want to Know About 3D Printing
Here’s how 3D printing is changing the world.
What is 3D printing?
The idea of 3D printing has been around for a long time. The old Sci-Fi Saturday morning cartoon The Jetsons was talking about it back in the 1960s! Now a lot of schools have them, and some people even have a 3D printer right in their home. So what is the history of 3D printing and why is it important to know about?
Beyond the fantasy that was 1960s cartoons, 3D printing got its start in the 1980s. The technique at that time was to cure a thin layer of liquid polymers with ultraviolet light. This is still used today for some projects. By the 1990s, another process used modified parts from paper and ink printers. It injected epoxy onto a bed of powder.
Now you can buy a 3D printer, or build your own from a kit, that melts plastic and squirts it out from a small nozzle. This is the most common style these days, and it’s known as material extrusion. It works almost exactly like a hot-glue gun. In fact, some are even handheld like a hot glue gun, so you can free-form your creation. But, most work like a paper printer, except that it moves in three dimensions instead of two.
Who is using 3D printing?
The simple answer to that question is everyone. People are making their own 3D–printed toys, gadgets, and parts—only limited by their imagination! Car companies and plane manufacturers have been 3D printing prototype parts for decades. They do this to make sure everything fits. There are even 3D printers that pump out concrete to build a house!
In the car world, they have been using 3D printing technology for a while. It’s used to make parts for concepts and full-size clay models. With modern cars, there are so many pieces there isn’t a lot of room to waste. By 3D printing prototype parts, engineers can be sure it is going to fit.
Car producers are moving beyond using the technology for prototypes, though. High-end carmakers, like Porsche and Bugatti, are actually making whole parts for cars! Porsche has a long history of helping owners take care of their older cars. They have started 3D printing parts that they stopped mass producing decades ago. Bugatti makes one of the fastest cars ever and is using 3D printing on some of the parts. This helps them make parts lighter and stronger.
To make these kinds of parts, they have to use a new 3D printing technology. It's called metal sintering, and it uses lasers to melt metal together. The aircraft industry has started to use this technique to make various parts. One of the main parts they are using 3D printing to make is jet engine fan blades. Before, they cut a chunk of metal and shaped the part, causing a lot of waste. Now they can use only the material needed!
In the medical world, 3D printing is having a huge impact. In the past, if someone had a knee or hip replacement, the one-size-fits-all piece had to be good enough. Now, using 3D printing, it can be made to custom fit the person. 3D printing is also being used to make prosthetic limbs. Not only are these parts lighter, they often have really cool designs and custom functions to suit the person who wears it.
How can you use 3D printing?
What kind of project would you make if you had access to a 3D printer? There are a bunch of websites where people post projects they’ve already designed. You can save the files and take them to a local 3D print shop, or even your school, to make if you find something that you like.