When it comes to manufacturing products, quality is a high priority but ease of manufacturing and reduction of costs is a major player in the field. There are several things that can be implemented to make things easier and cheaper to manufacture, but many of these cause a loss in quality. The use of 3D printers can keep high quality while increasing speed and reducing costs. 3D printing is the process of using a material to layer different levels and build up an end product such as linear guide rails for drawers. For a more visual example of this, it is the technology used in Jurassic Park 3 when they create the “voice box” of a raptor. By spraying liquid polymers in layers, you can create any part that you may need. As long as you have a schematic of the product, you can set up the layers and create the piece. It is now possible to use multiple materials to construct these items. 

This means that you can create components inside components and they can even be made of two different materials. Imagine making a small gearbox that is constructed of steel with magnesium gears inside. This is now possible through the use of 3D printing.

The first thing that you need to know when talking about 3D printing is the different types of printing that are available. There are four major methods that are used right now with this technology. The oldest one of these was developed by Stratasys and is known as Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). This is just like the example in Jurassic Park 3. It is a nozzle that sprays a liquid polymer layer by layer and builds the model from the ground up. You can easily get minute details into your prototypes and models, but the functionality of these is limited. It also requires someone to grind off all of the “loose” resins and burs that remain from the use of resins. This process usually only allows one type of polymer to be used. This is a great solution for those that just need models and visual aids such as architects and product designers. You can rapidly and inexpensively produce visualizations of very large scale projects in a simple model. While many of these used to be made of wood and take months to craft, you can now get a sturdy polymer (usually plastic but can be metal or mineral-based) model to show functionality and detail.

Selective Fusing is another common method to produce these 3D models. This is a fairly simple and basic method of creating components. It starts with a bed of granules, usually metal, and the object is sintered (basically melted together) via a laser. The laser will pinpoint the shape and details of the end product and fuse the granules together to produce the completed project. This is great for creating machine parts but is limited in the amount of detail that can be used. The real benefit of this type of production is that you can create extremely thin walls and supports on the interior of your product. The biggest drawback to this style of printing is that you are limited to one type of material. It is also very difficult to make moving parts with this method. You can create two separate pieces and then put them together. This method will commonly have burs and imperfections that may need to be ground off as well. Two common technologies used in this style of 3D printing are Selective and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (SLS and DMLS respectively).

When it comes to very tiny and extremely detailed needs, 3D Micro Fabrication in a 2-photon photopolymerization is the best choice. This method is a little more expensive but very precise. You can get details down to 100 nanometers in size. To do this, a polymer gel is carved by a laser. This gel is then cured and the area that was carved by the laser is solidified. The remaining gel is gently washed away and the remaining product is ready to be used. While this method is a little more expensive to use, it is very easy and can create some very complex designs with moving pieces and interlocking parts. While there is yet to be a metallic based gel for this method, sturdy plastic-type materials, and silicone parts can easily be created. This may be a possible choice for the actual production of your end product and not just a prototype.

The most common and researched version of 3D printing utilizes an inkjet printing style. In the past, only starches and resins could be used for this, but the advances have been phenomenal. This is not only the most common but the lowest costing form of 3D printing as well as the fastest. This method uses the inkjets to spray out an adhesive in layers. Another jet sprays the desired media on the adhesive. There is often a laser or other heating method to rapidly dry the layer that will pass behind the jets. The benefits of this method are huge. Not only can you get your parts in record time, but you can now use several different components in your end product. An example of this would be creating an aluminum cased gearbox with titanium gears inside. There are a variety of materials that you can create from. The traditional starches and rosins can still be used as well as metals and even human cells. This is the same technology that is being used to create organs in some hospitals now.

All of these versions have their advantages, but the inkjet style 3D modeling is the best all-around method. There have been several advances in 3D printing in recent years and more are being made all the time. There is a group called RepRap trying to use this technology to create computers. They are already capable of creating a computer chip, but self-replication is still a little ways off for computers. Creating organs via this method was a huge advance andOrganovo, a company in San Diego has just recently sent out several of these machines for testing in hospitals. They can now create a living and fully functioning organ in a matter of weeks without cloning. They even use the patient’s original organ cells to prevent any rejection of the organ.

Unlike past methods like stereolithography, there are no harmful chemicals used and you no longer get just a base to start with. You do not have to produce piece after piece and the burs and finishing work are much less with 3D printing. There is no more piecing together several lithograph pieces after sanding and washing them in toxic substances. Most of these methods only require some simple dusting and polishing for a very presentable and functional end product.

The cost of these has dramatically dropped in the past years. While the hardware for creating an organ may run around $200K dollars, you can get a more functional and usable 3D printer for your business for much less. The object has a high-quality solution for your business and they are quite affordable. They will even accept trade-ins and have other promotions to help you get one of these inkjet style 3D printers in your office. For the more functional and minute Micro Fabrication printer, you can find them for under $20K from dimension Printers.

There have been several advances and tons of research into the technology of 3D printing. With all of the competing research that is currently occurring, there are several advances that will be made in the very near future. By the end of this year, it may be much more common to hear of people with fabricated organs. Within five years, instead of backing up your hard drive to disk, you may be able to just print a new one. It will be amazing to see the things that we will be able to do with this technology. From making your own car parts at home to printing steaks for dinner, there will be some great things to come from 3D printing.