Many of us have once dreamed of the possibility of having a tool that allows us to create solid and 3D parts directly from a simple computer, and that this tool is also economical, clean and easy to operate. Although it may seem too much to ask, and even more difficult to get, the truth is that such an artifact exists, and is called a 3D printer.
3D printers, although initially only related to industrial and research, over time became smaller, and therefore cheaper and easier to operate, until we reach such a point where if we want, we can assemble our own 3D printer from kits. Best of all, we can use a 3D printer at home, just like an inkjet printer.
What is 3D printing?
3D printing is a technique that allows us to create 3D parts, that is, with height, width and length, of any design stored in a computer file created by the user or downloaded from the Internet using a device called a 3D printer.
Also a part can be copied by means of a special device, basically a scanner, and then reproduced on a 3D printer, but this method is unfortunately out of reach of the average user, due to its high cost.
Basically, as we mentioned, printing a 3D design requires a 3D printer, which is a printing device similar to a laser or inkjet printer, not in its physical form, but in behavior. This means that to get a 3D part we will have to load the file with the layout in the software, press the command to print and the 3D printer will start working.
Best of all, to perform this process you won’t need a special or prepared computer, since you can use the same PC that you use to work every day.
The main difference between the printers we know as the Inkjet and the laser printers from the 3D printer is that the latter instead of ejecting ink through its nozzles, injects a special molten plastic, which once expelled, will dry immediately, resulting in the required shape with astonishing precision.
Because of this simplicity, practicality and ease of use, 3D printers are increasingly being used in many areas, not only in industry or research, but also at home, where the user can take advantage of their ability to print 3D parts customized to their own needs.
Also a 3D printer can be extremely useful for hobbyists, workshops and technical services and other activities that require a method like this to be available, since using a 3D printer they could print many spare parts and items that are no longer in place or that directly do not exist.
As we could see, the field of application of 3D printers is truly wide, and it only has the limit that our imagination or knowledge imposes on it.
Ways to make a 3D print
While the operation of a 3D printer seems simple, the truth is that the technology behind these devices is really complex, because to ensure that the parts we send to print on these machines are exactly as defined in the file, sophisticated mechanical and electronic systems are used, allowing perfect control of all the movements that the engines and parts of the 3D printer make.
But fortunately the user does not have to understand at all the operation of a 3D printer, all you have to do is make sure that the printer has loaded the print media, in this case the plastic, and send to print the part. Just like we do with a printer that uses paper, of which we care little and nothing about control electronics.
This ease of use of a 3D printer translates to all types of 3D printing technologies available on the market. On all printers of this type, the operating principle is the same, as we can see below:
First of all the file is loaded with the design that we want to print in 3D in the software that we use for it, which can be for example Blender,one of the most used for these activities, which we can download for free by clicking on this link,or FreeCad,another very popular 3D printing software, and that we can download for free by clicking on this link.
It should be noted that the file to print on a 3D printer can come from the Internet from sites like Thingiverse,or directly created by us in the applications mentioned above. At this point, it is necessary to clarify that the file type used to print to 3D printers is the “format”. STL”, which contains information of a part in a single color, or the “. VRML”, which stores information about a part in several colors.
After that the print media is loaded to print the part, which varies according to the type of 3D printing technology that we are using, as we can see below. Finally, the print order is given and the 3D printer starts doing its job.
Types of 3D printers
3D Printing FDM
We mention that the material to make the printing varies according to the type of 3D printer in question, the most used worldwide the so-called FDM or “Printing by Molten Deposition”,method in which a plastic is melted, usually ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) or PLA (Lactic Polyacid), and is spread in layers by the extruders of the printers in a tray where it is This plastic is provided in the form of filaments in rolls.
3D SLA printing
Another type of 3D printing technology is the so-called SLA or “Stereolithography”, a method in which an ultraviolet beam of light is used that is projected to a photosensitive resin, which solidifies as it is illuminated by the UV beam.
3D SLS printing
Also widely used, in areas with more important budgets, is the type of 3D printing known as SLS or “Selective Laser Sintering”, whose printing material is ceramic powder, glass, nylon or polystyrene, which is melted according to how it is achieved by the laser beam.
3D Printing by Injection
Finally, we also have available the 3D printing method by Injection, which injects layers of photopolymers that solidify, by using chemicals, into the tray. This method is similar in operation to inkjet printers, except that instead of ink they inject these liquid polymers.
It should be noted that this technology is the only one that allows the printing of 3D parts in full color, and also allows the printing of extraplanes or protrusions.
How 3D printing is going to change the world
A few years ago, when the idea was just started to sketch and the discussion began about the possibility of creating printers that could reproduce formats in three dimensions, that project seemed like a true utopia, only possible to achieve through the pages of a science fiction novel.
However, the development behind 3D printing has gone a long way, and after hundreds of tests and errors, it was finally possible to create the first printing equipment capable of reproducing an object in its three dimensions.
Soon after this great advancement of technology was reaching the masses, and while even 3D printers have not become an element that we all have in our home, the truth is that thanks to its scheme and its free patent, today anyone can make their own 3D printer.
Due to the almost inexhaustible possibilities offered by 3D printing, not only on a large scale, but also in the home and in large and small businesses around the world, many say that with 3D printing a new industrial revolution has arrived.
Thanks to the wide variety of materials that can be implemented in the process of 3D printing, which mainly include nylon and polystyrene, among others, with a 3D printer it is possible to print the most diverse three-dimensional objects, ranging from clothing, tools, houses, various spare parts, medical equipment, food and even organs for the human body.
Therefore, we can come to imagine how the technology of 3D printing will undoubtedly change the world in a short time again, and in this respect there are many experts who assure that thanks to the 3D printing of food, in a few decades it will even be possible to end the world hunger, something that of course has generated great controversy.
This is precisely a project that is in the middle of development, through the initiative that has had NASA with a series of companies, which seeks to be able to create among other things a 3D printer that allows to print a pizza. Meanwhile, large food manufacturers have already begun to conduct various tests on this.
According to many experts, because printing food would require the use of supplies that include different powders and oils, this type of food could be stored for years, and they estimate that it could greatly eradicate or reduce hunger worldwide thanks to 3D printers.
Another field where 3D printing has begun to give talk lies in the field of medicine, where without a doubt the technology behind 3D printing will allow to quickly generate the most advanced medical innovations.
For years it has already been argued that one of the main benefits of 3D printing will allow over time to significantly improve medical care within various diseases, and treat injuries that until now was unthinkable to achieve the amazing results that three-dimensional technology can achieve.
Some already almost in use, and others to be improved for implementation, the truth is that with 3D printers the medicine will be able to print replicas of human organs, print skin grafts on burns and other injuries.
That is why while most of these innovations are still in the midst of testing as they are very new, the truth is that 3D printing technology will inexorably completely transform the health scenario, and it may not be too many decades before it can be seen.
Just as it is estimated that 3D printing can help reduce hunger in the world, and also allow medicine to give immediate answers about certain pathologies, it is estimated that over time this technology will also allow to break or reduce to a large extent with the housing problem that exists on the planet.
With the decrease in the costs that supplies for 3-D printing will inevitably have over time, 3D printing will also invade the real estate market, and moreover, in this respect a test has already been carried out with total success, when a group of researchers from the University of Southern California built a 3D printer that allows to manufacture a layered house, which I only have been building for a day.
Thus, over the years houses built with 3D printers will be the cheapest and fastest option, which could undoubtedly have a significant positive social effect, not only in emerging countries with housing problems, but also in third-world nations where increasingly competitive costs are required due to the global crisis.
On the other hand, due to the almost inexhaustible characteristic of elements that can be manufactured with 3D printers, of course that textile and related products that are manufactured using this technology will become increasingly popular.
Let’s imagine that as time passes and printing costs decrease, it will no longer be so strange to think that each of us have a 3D printer in our house, and that before we leave we can print the clothes, shoes and accessories that we want to wear that day.
To do this we will surely have to wait a long time. However, the world’s large textile industry companies are already seeing with great eyes the possibilities offered by the manufacture of textile products through 3-D printing technology.
Of course, all this will result, in principle, related to the field of work, since the number of operators required for the manufacture of different elements will be greatly reduced,although on the other hand new trades and professions related to the development of printing graphics and handling of such equipment will be generated.
On the other hand, one of the disadvantages indicated by experts with regard to 3D printing is that it will inevitably lead to an increase in imitation products, leading to new piracy markets of all kinds.
Moreover, according to the opinion of a large number of researchers, 3D printing technology could not only lead to a noticeable increase in piracy of the most varied elements, but also the massification of this technology could lead to much more dangerous effects, such as the manufacture of firearms by a 3D printer.
For a couple of years now, an American company that manufactures weapons, called Defense, developed the first 3D-printed metal pistol, which even began to be marketed. The truth is that the danger is not implied when it is a factory that incorporates this technology, but increases when 3D printers become an artifact that everyone can access.
Keep in mind that as with all technologies, 3D printers and their supplies will eventually begin to have a decrease in their costs, which will give the possibility of moving this technology to the home realm, where anyone could ultimately come to manufacture a weapon.
It will be at this point that governments and world laws must emphasize, and find the right balance between the freedom that individuals must enjoy, in the face of the harm that such freedom can cause, when for example a 3D printer falls into the wrong hands.
Before you start: can you do everything with a 3D printer?
They offer the possibility to distribute global production, in the hands of people, communities and new flexible production centres in cities. They are similar to a smartphone, which is a small computer that allows us to be connected at all times, but above all they allow us to become producers: photographers, publicists, video makers, journalists, etc. They allow us to be producers. But smartphones would be nothing without a much more complex infrastructure behind them, they are the tip of the iceberg of digital revolutions in computing and communications, in the same way, 3D printers are the third digital revolution: in manufacturing. Digital manufacturing is about making us capable of doing almost anything, anywhere in the world.
However, when it comes to the truth, they have limits, as Bregas explains: “The possibilities are practically unlimited, but it should be pointed out that it is not recommended for mass production, because it is very slow and expensive if we want to make 100, 1000 or 10000 units. It’s ideal for initial prototype development or very short runs.
It has many applications. You can create it very simply and cheaply as you wish. There is free software that allows you to generate basic 3D shapes and be able to print them. I’m passionate about Star Wars and the printer allows me to print the helmets from the saga. I have also printed useful things like tube wrenches or parts that have been broken by use. On a more powerful level, I generated two CNC milling machines and even a laser engraver (made of printed parts and basic material). Working in a company that analyzes and attenuates vibrations in all areas, the printer allows me to generate prototypes to check if the interface is correct for the assemblies.
Common errors in 3D printing
The most common mistake is to think that mistakes are bad. In manufacturing, error becomes an infinite learning tool. I’ve broken machines and ruined designs, but that’s part of learning. My recommendation is not to start alone, to go to the closest space to the manufacturer and communicate with people who are already doing things.
Before buying a model, visit a space, association or event because a 3D printer is not like a paper printer. Don’t get carried away by the euphoria and buy the most expensive one, because it doesn’t necessarily have to translate into higher performance.
It’s best to start with simple materials, start with ALP and work your way up. And don’t use a basic 3D printer to make parts that will withstand high pressure, stress or temperature.
Before you buy a 3D printer, first learn how to work in three dimensions and be clear about how the printer works, because otherwise you won’t get any performance out of it.
The two possible types of errors that can occur: those arising from printer maintenance and those related to design. Regarding the maintenance lists some basic lines: “Be careful to leave the hot end active because the filament can be charred and clogged. He takes care of the coils and prevents them from tangling and understands that 3D printing requires an accuracy of tenths of a millimetre, so good calibration is vital. We can’t move the printer and expect it to work well if we don’t recalibrate it.
As far as the design is concerned:
You have to understand that an FDM printer works by depositing layers of material, one on top of the other, so there are certain shapes that are complex, such as protrusions or suspended structural elements, such as holes or windows. For them, the printer software automatically creates supports (such as scaffolding or bundles) for printing, but they always tend to be problematic when they are removed. There are dual-extruder printers like the BCN3D Sigma that allow us to do something: use one water-soluble filament (PVA) and another that does not, so you print the media in PVA. Once finished, you put the piece in water and the supports disappear. If you understand how this works, you understand what the designs will give you problems and how to put it in to minimize the brackets and optimize the design.
What to consider before buying a printer
For beginners, you have to find a balance between money and ease of use. You need to know what you want to do with a printer. Do we want a 3D printer as a more cross-cutting hobby or do we want to use it as a ready-to-use tool without worrying about how it works? If I want a printer as a service, I don’t care how it works, I don’t want to do the maintenance and I need a technical service that solves it and you can pay for it and then go get an advertisement. If there’s less money and we’re looking for ease, a commercial implementation of Prusa i3.
If you want to know how it works, you’d better have one in the form of a kit that you roll from scratch. This gives you the advantage of showing you their ins and outsizing the door for you to know how to repair and adjust it. This is my favorite choice because sooner or later all 3D printers will give you problems, so this option is more affordable and also fixes the issue. The Reprapest project is very interesting, an opensource project that opens the doors to manufacturers, options and prices go down. It’s not very complicated, but it’s not trivial either. When you choose this option, it’s very important to know which community has a printer because they’ve had your problems before. The most interesting one right now is the Prusa i3.
Do we want a 3D printer as a more cross-cutting hobby or do we want to use it as a ready-to-use tool, without worrying about how it works?
A 3D printer has nothing to do with a normal printer, we will have to invest a lot of time in training and understanding the basics, we will have problems that will surely take several days to solve. The first thing to consider is whether we are prepared to deal with these complications and we will have enough time to devote. If you’re going to bet on an open source model, look for a printer that has a community of big users behind it, something very important when it comes to troubleshooting, making improvements or looking for documentation.
Before you start buying a 3D printer, I recommend that you do some research because there is a lot of equipment and especially to approach the nearest manufacturer’s space or contact us to listen to other experiences and come up with the idea. People are usually geeks, but they can also have a conversation, and they are more and more sociable … 🙂 If you want to learn, I recommend you to buy a kit and assemble the printer yourself, or see if there are workshops in your local fab lab on how to assemble a 3D printer.
The electronics are very basic and easy to get at a good price on Aliexpress and for the chassis and motors I used demolition materials. I believe that the knowledge generated by having built it yourself helps to overcome all the problems that arise.
Where to look for printing templates
Although we have already seen that imagination and our hobbies, are a good source of printed material, we asked our interviewees where we can find simple models to get familiar with the practical part of Printing.
The page par excellence is called Thingiverse, you can find almost anything and being STL models (extension of 3D files to be printed) you can modify them for your own projects. You can print anything, but they are still plastic parts, so stiffness and hardness is what can be generated with plastic. In addition, the resolution that a 3D gives you is somewhat limited,as a general rule to give a fine finish you should sandblast, mask and paint.