The Technology of 3D Printing

Chuck Hull created the first working 3D printer in 1984 at the 3D Systems Corporation. Three decades later, the technology is revolutionising the creation of certain custom-made parts.

3D printing is known as Additive Manufacturing as parts are created by adding one tiny layer at a time from the base upwards. The computer controlled printing head accurately deposits material in a similar way to ink being applied to paper by a normal inkjet printer. One of the most common 3D printers for plastics applies heated liquid material from the print head. As each layer dries, the next layer of material is added on top of the previous one.

3D printing technology is available to create products made from a wide range of materials but is mostly limited to certain polymers and certain metals for mainstream machines.

Benefits of 3D Printing

At the heart of all the benefits of 3D printing is the ability to produce real products quickly and easily directly from a design stored on a computer as a CAD file. Here we concentrate on the uses of 3D printing in the prototyping process for new or adapted products in the industrial sector. This is a key area where benefits are being delivered by us for manufactured end-products.

Speed

The traditional methods of prototyping require a significant amount of time to be factored into the process. Sometimes this can be accommodated whereas often, time pressure for a new product can be high. Creation of prototype tooling requires the scheduling of specialist knowledge and machinery. Amendments for later generations of prototypes add to the time required. 3D printing of prototypes can cut-down production times from days or weeks to hours or minutes. This massive speed advantage to holding a part that you can trial means that a design for a production part can be agreed rapidly thereby minimising the wait by the end user of the new part. Delivering solutions so quickly can be a significant advantage in winning business.

Cost

In life, getting things quicker often means paying more – not so for 3D printing! With no expensive prototype tooling or tool-making expertise needed, the cost of producing the sample parts is tiny and we normally expect to produce them free-of-charge.

Design

So, the speed it quick, the costs are low – there are no barriers to optimising your design. After a trial of a prototype we can simply make a change to the CAD file based on any changes required and have a new version of the part printed and ready for more trials within an hour or two. Tests for speculative designs that would have been prohibitively expensive or too time-consuming are now possible. We can help get you rapidly to an optimal design for your application.

Summary

3D printing of prototypes has revolutionised the speed, cost and design of parts that can be produced for applications that are new or would benefit from improved parts. We have used our 3D printing capability to help customers rapidly develop optimal product designs in a wide range of industries. With an extensive CAD library of standard parts, the product expertise of our application engineers is available to your team to get the best product solutions for you faster than could have been imagined just a few years ago.