3D printing is also called additive manufacturing. It is a procedure of creating volumetric objects from a digital file with the help of additive processes. An object is constructed by building it with layers of plastic or other material. These layers look like horizontal transverse section slashes of the object. 3D printer was invented by Charles Hull in 1983 (Ponsford & Glass, 2014).
Although additive manufacturing positively affects manufacturing as 3D printing provides many benefits to modern economy from printing different household things to artificial body parts, some aspects of it may be dangerous because people begin printing firearms with the help of 3D printers.
3D printing starts with creating a digital design of the object that will be created. A special CAD (Computer Aided Design) file is used for creating a brand new object. With the help of 3D scanner, one can make a copy of an object that already exists. 3D scanners may differ based on the technology they use to generate 3D model (for example, volumetric scanning or modulated light). Nowadays, some IТ companies like Microsoft or Google work on 3D scanner hardware. This means that in future many devices like laptops or smart phones will be equipped with 3D scanners. It will become easy to have any object digitalized by taking its picture. There are different types of 3D printers and every type uses its own technology. There are different ways of creating a 3D object and the way of joining layers together in the final object.
Selective laser sintering (SLS) and fused deposition modeling (FDМ) are the most frequently applied techniques that use easy materials for printing. Another method of printing uses a photo-reactive material that turns into solid material under the UV light. Stereolithography (SLA) is the most effective technology that exploits this method. If 3D printer’s work is based on the Vat Photopolymerisation approach, there is a tank with photopolymer resin, which hardens under the UV laser. The most popular technology in these processes is Stereolithography (SLA). This technique uses a bath of liquid photopolymer material and UV laser that builds an object layer by layer.
The cost plays a significant part in choosing a 3D printer. 3D printers used to cost thousands of dollars, but recently they have significantly come down in price. One can buy a 3D printer on Amazon for $500. To buy a 3D printer from a serious brand, one probably will have to pay more. The cheapest and smallest MakerBot’s 3D printer called the “Replicator Mini” can now be bought for $1,375. This price is lower than it was a few years ago, but still it is quite expensive for the personal use and not every household can afford to buy one (Hoffman, 2015).
- Among perks of 3D printers, firstly, there is the ability to customize products because one can create any object and any design.
- Secondly, 3D printing makes quick production of prototypes possible.
- Thirdly, the initial cost of 3D printer may be rather high, but, in general, the manufacturer could save a lot of money with respect to the labor force, time spent, and the cost of production.
- Finally, products produced by 3D printer are created on-demand, which is why they do not need any storage place (Baghel, 2014).
The History of 3D Printing
Charles Hull created 3D printer and built the 3D Systems Company around this innovative technology. He became an executive officer and chief technology leader. In 1983, Hull was working in a small business that made coatings for tables with the help of ultraviolet lamps. Then, he began thinking about a new way to use the UV light , i.e. to make working prototypes from computer designs. Hull got a little laboratory to bring his ideas to life. Hull made experiments for months and finally he succeeded in making the first 3D printer. The concept of 3D printer was being developed for three years. During early stages of his work, materials used by Charles Hull were called “photopolymers” and these were acrylic-based materials which would be liquid till they were hit with an ultraviolet light to make them solid. However, if there are a point of ultraviolet light and a vat of this liquid, it is possible to make it into a solid plastic piece of (Ponsford & Glass, 2014).
In March of 1986, Charles Hull got a patent from the United States Patent Office. His invention was called “Setup for Production of Three-Dimensional Items by Stereolithography.” Stereolithography is the terminal figure that Hull gave to his device. Now, it is named 3D Printing. In 1986, when Hull had his setup patented, he decided to market his invention and established a company that he named 3D Systems. 3D Systems is the prevailing company in the sphere of additive manufacturing and services that presently exist.
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The idea of producing 3D printers was first introduced in 1983 and a few years later the Affinia Company was the first company that launched production of 3D printers. Affinia is a division of Micro Boards Technology LLC and it is a leading company in manufacturing 3D printers all over the world. After launching the first 3D printer production, the number of industries started manufacturing using this technology; in the nearest future, it will be possible to see 3D printers in common use in all spheres of human life.
Affinia is one of the top five 3D printer-producing companies in the world and it is famous around the globe due to its distinguished characteristics. This company has been working for more than twenty years in the industry of printing before 3D printers (Affinia Group, 2012).
The Manufacturing Process of a 3D Printer
Main parts of a 3D printer are: gear, extruder body, build chamber, the heater for melting the plastic, and the print bed. The gear with the extruder is installed in the build chamber on two horizontal rails. The gear and extruder are moving on the rails with the help of rubber belt. The belt will drive the tool along the carriage. Then, the cord of the power supply is connected with the gear and the print bed is installed. In the testing department, technicians push the end of plastic filament into a drill channel in the tool head to see whether the whole system works. At this stage, 3D printer is ready for creating three-dimensional objects (Hoffman, 2015).
The price of 3D printer depends on its size and sphere of usage. Large industrial 3D printers work faster, but their cost may reach a couple thousand dollars. Small 3D printers for personal use are not so powerful as the industrial ones, but their price is relatively low (from $300 to $500) (Hoffman, 2015).
There is a small number of companies that produce 3D printers and related materials. The first company that is worth mentioning is 3D Systems Corp. Charles Hull, the inventor of the 3D printer, founded it. 3D Systems has been the leading company in the sphere of 3D printing for years. Stratasys Ltd. is the second largest company in the sphere of 3D printing. The company manufactures 3D printers and provides services in designing the finished product. Hewlett-Packard Company is one of the top 2D printer worldwide producers. Hewlett-Packard has joined the additive manufacturing sphere with the intention to make 3D printing quicker and inexpensive. Voxeljet is a German company. It manufactures and trades 3D printers and their parts.
The Effect of the 3D Printer on the Manufacturing Industry
3D printer has significantly affected the manufacturing industry. The additive manufacturing technology is widely used and prices for 3D printers have become lower, which is why it is possible to say that 3D printing technology has a positive influence on the manufacturing industry. The first big advantage is that more goods will be produced at or close to their point of purchase or consumption. This may even lead to domestic level production of some goods. As 3D printing becomes more popular, factors that have made China the top manufacturer of the world will lose much of their significance. Another advantage is that goods will be infinitely more customized because changing them will not require equipment, but rather only changing settings in computer programs. A creative approach to individual needs of every customer will become the main goal of 3D manufacturing (D’Aveni, 2013).
Main stakeholders affected by the developing 3D printing technologies are small business owners and local manufacturers. The development of additive manufacturing is beneficial for them. They make their products using 3D technologies and this will help to attract social capital to small businesses.
Additive manufacturing also affects the economy. Looking at the benefits of additive manufacturing, it is obvious that mass production will not disappear at all. It has a number of its own benefits if to compare it to 3D printing (speed of manufacturing, efficiency, volume of manufacturing). However, 3D printing is able to form an entirely new powerful category of products to decrease the demand for complex supply models and excessive waste when decentralizing manufacturing, knowledge, and wealth (Schoffer, 2016).
An estimated 30 percent of all produced goods end up as waste in a couple of months after the production. The on-demand individual production of goods will decrease this number because people will produce the quantity of goods that they really need. The most noticeable advantage of 3D printing is not that it could replace mass manufacturing in its modern form, but that it is likely to give rise to a completely new kind of goods. People start with a manufacturing scheme that introduces a product and delivers it to a place of sale or consumption and that move to a manufacturing scheme, under which the sale takes place at once, while only needed products are produced and delivered within the shortest period of time.
The Possibilities and Limits of the 3D Printer
It may be easier to say what 3D printers cannot create than otherwise; having a blueprint of the needed object, one can create almost everything using 3D printer, for example, musical instruments, machinery tools, firearms, cases for smartphones, and even fabric. In the medical sphere, 3D printing has become extremely useful. Рatients around the world see that the quality of medical care has been improving because now specialists are able to create 3D printed imрlants and prosthetics that had to be manufactured before. Medical institutions work with bio-printing, i.e. building layers of living cells into organs or body parts, and this will be a significant step in the life of the entire humanity. Developments in the metal aviation and aerospace sector are partly caused by improvements in 3D printing techniques. 3D printing technologies are used tin automobile and industrial printing and can save companies a lot of money.
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However, there are goals that have not been achieved yet. Although the medical sphere is not able to print organs for replacement even by means of 3D printing, there are medical projects that print miniature human hearts, lungs, and other organs, place them on a microchip, and test them out with the help of artificial blood. 3D printing is also useful for medical training and education (Woodford, 2016).
The whole process of 3D printing can be divided into several steps:
- Firstly, it is necessary to create a 3-D model with the help of computer-aided-design (CAD) software.
- Secondly, conversion to standard tessellation language takes place.
- Thirdly, the machine settings are checked. Each machine has its own set of requirements for the printing process.
- Fourthly, the time of building comes. This step is automatic; it may take from minutes to days.
- Finally, the next step is to remove the object from the machine. It is very important to take all safety measures (such as to wear gloves) to avoid injuries (Gibson, Rosen, & Stucker, 2015).
It sounds easy to operate 3D printer: just download a 3D model from the net, upload it, and the printer creates exactly the needed object. The truth is not so simple. Operating 3D printer requires extensive use of special computer programs and algorithms. 3D printing equipment is not user-friendly yet and if the user fails to adjust all settings, this can ruin the result. The first difficulty in operating 3D printer is to find the model of the object online. When the script file is generated, a number of parameters can be specified. When the file is ready for printing, special software should be launched to orient the future object in the build chamber. Then, the program slices the model of the object into hundreds of layers. The printer builds each layer one by one and when the printer finishes the last layer, the drying cycle begins. The final step is to take the object out of the build chamber. Not everyone can operate 3D printer because this activity requires special knowledge (Rockman & Sheinwald, 2012).
Invention of 3D printer has made it possible for an average person to be a manufacturer. With the development of 3-D printing, a step towards personal consumption and partial domestic manufacturing is made. A person who has 3D printer and wants to start small business at home should only know how to operate 3D printer. 3D printers can be useful in different social spheres as well. One can imagine farmers in the developing society that print parts for farm equipment or water pumps. In the future, car dealers might include 3D printers with cars so that owners can create a new part instead of the broken one and then replace and redesign it forever.
Among the pros of 3D printer creation, there are the ability to customize products, quick production and delivery, a relatively low cost, on-demand creation, and absence of storage place. However, despite all the advantages, 3D printing cannot replace traditional methods of manufacturing and there are several reasons for that. First, 3D printed objects are mostly limited in size. Build chambers of home and semi-industrial printers do not allow producing large objects. Second, the speed of producing objects by means of 3D printers cannot compete with traditional ways of manufacturing. Third, additive manufacturing uses a small range of materials for producing 3D objects. 3D printers use plastic, resin, and some metal, while production of mixed objects is not available yet.
Besides changes for the good in manufacturing, economy, medicine engineering, and aviation, there appear questions that are not solved yet. Some of the cons are legal questions. If an average person can become a manufacturer, who will take the responsibility if the product breaks and the home-printed design is not of the quality the consumer expected? Who is the owner of the intellectual property of digital files and final objects that are produced? Then, there are security concerns. Using blueprints downloaded from the Internet, people have already begun printing gun parts. Hackers have stolen personal banking information after creating a widget that fits inside an ATM. As ever, tools can be used for the good as easily as for the evil. Various government agencies can help understand the spectrum of related legal and criminal concerns.