How Does a 3D Printer Work?

Title How Does a 3D Printer Work

The 3D printer is changing the way we think about manufacturing. As the emerging technology continues to improve, and materials become cheaper and cheaper, what was once the exclusive technology of only the top universities and private companies around the world, is fast becoming available to more and more individuals – from backyard innovators to ambitious students.

History and development

The first ever 3D printer was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 1990s by a company called 3D Systems (source). Since then they have continued to improve the technology, and to this day remain the leaders of the field.

However, even before the development of the 3D printer, many companies in the 1980s experimented with an earlier form of additive manufacturing called rapid prototyping (RP). RP allowed manufacturers to produce prototypes much quicker than usual – sometimes in as little as a day – and marked a positive step forward in the eventual evolution of the 3D printer.

These days, significant improvements in the areas of efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and accessibility have enabled this technology to flood into the wider arena.

How does 3D printing work?

A 3D printer uses additive manufacturing technology to build 3-dimensional objects from a standard Computer Aided Design (CAD) file. Usually used for prototyping purposes, a 3D printer uses different types of plastic filament (ABS plastic, PLA, Nylon and Polycarbonates) which is melted to create solid objects – layer by layer.

Let’s take a look at the specific steps involved in creating a 3D printed object:

  • First, the object is virtually designed in a CAD file using 3D modeling software such as TurboCAD or Trimble. Alternatively, a 3D scanner can be used to scan an existing object and turn it into a digital file that can then be imported into 3D modeling software.

  • Once the object exists in a digital format, the 3D modeling software reads this CAD data and then slices the digital object into hundreds, if not thousands, of individual horizontal layers – much like slicing a salami.

  • When the object has been sliced into enough layers, it is then sent to the 3D printer for printing. Layer by layer the entire object is created by fusing the plastic filament together. This process can take anywhere from between 10 minutes (e.g., a bottle opener) to up to two days (e.g., an actual, working car!) – depending on the size and complexity of the object.

The current cost of plastic filament hovers between $20-$50 for 1kg – enough filament to make over 100 small solid chess pieces. Recently, a number of 3D printers have entered the market, some weighing as little as 1.5kg and costing a just over $2000.

Uses and applications

There is a ton of excitement building over just what 3D printers can currently do, and what they’ll be capable of in the near future. It has been suggested by some advocates of additive manufacturing that 3D printers will completely revolutionise the nature of the manufacturing industry. Innovators will now be able to manufacture their own products, rather than having to contract with plants and factories all over the world. (source)

It’s already possible for 3D printers to print in different colours and materials (including brass, steel, and ceramic) to create fully-functional objects. Indeed, just recently the first 3D-printed aircraft and car were created, signaling a significant step forward in the technology’s continued evolution. 3D printing also allows the production of objects with such intricate and complex designs that it’s simply impossible to recreate using any other technology.

3D printing also has a number of uses and applications in a wide range of industries. For example, 3D bioprinting will allow doctors and researchers to print organs and human tissue. Already, many 3D printers on the market are able to print at such high resolutions: necessary when dealing with the human body. The food industry can also benefit through this emerging technology. Edible objects can be created by printing objects using edible materials.

What is the best printer to use with an iPad and iPhone?

Thanks to Apple’s native AirPrint wireless technology, gone are the days of tangled printer cables and centralised printing. And this makes sense: wireless technology is everywhere, and everyone expects it these days.

With AirPrint, it’s now possible for users to print photos and documents in a flash from literally anywhere in their home – or office – that’s within reach of a Wi-Fi signal. Simply connect your iPad, iPhone or any other iOS device to that printer on your network, and you’re good to go. If you’re in the market for one of these fantastic pieces of technology, then read on. Here are 3 of the best affordable wireless printers to use with your iPad or iPhone.

Epson Expression XP-850

An affordable all-in-one wireless printer that’s compatible with both the iPhone and iPad, the Epson Expression XP-850 is capable of printing top quality photos and easy to read text. It also doubles as a scanner, fax, and copier, making it ideal for the home office or the busy professional. The XP-850 is easy to setup, energy efficient and features an intuitive touchscreen for simple navigation. Keeping printing costs down is made easy due to the printer’s high-capacity ink cartridges – print more for less. The printer is able to automatically print on both sides of the page and features a 30 sheet paper tray.

HP Officejet Pro 8610.

With built-in AirPrint technology, a low cost-per-page, and print speeds of up to 19 ppm, the HP Officejet Pro 8610 is a solid all-in-one wireless printer that’s perfect for those users looking to print professional looking documents and photos. It’s a true workhorse, allowing users to print from their iOS devices without effort of fuss. A printer, copier, scanner and fax, the Officejet Pro 8610 features a 250 sheet page tray and is also packed to the brim with other useful features, such as USB connectivity, scan to email, duplex printing, and an intuitive touchscreen display. If you’ll be printing more documents than photos, the HP Officejet Pro 8610 is a great wireless printer to have around. Ink cartridges for HP Officejet Pro 8610 can be found here.

Canon PIXMA MX892.

Designed with overall performance and image quality in mind, the Canon PIXMA MX892 is an all-in-one wireless printer that simply delivers. Working seamlessly with the iPad and iPhone, this small, yet feature packed wireless printer is able to print photos at a resolution of 9600 dpi – that’s a high enough resolution for the pros. Users can also edit their photos from the convenience of the intuitive 3-inch LCD screen with the PIXMA MX892. Featuring a 35 sheet page tray and requiring little in the way of setting up (no additional drivers are needed; simply plug it in, connect to the network, and you’re ready to roll), the Canon PIXMA MX892 is a user friendly Apple compatible wireless printer that would make a welcome addition to any home or office. Canon ink cartridges can be found here.

Before making any purchase, it pays to be clear on what you need out of a wireless printer. So sit down, have a think about what kinds of documents you’d like to print, as well as what features you need, and then make your decision. That way you’ll pick the right AirPrint enabled printer for your home or office.