For most people, a 3D printer must seem like something out of Star Trek.

Who could have ever imagined technology like this a century ago? But now 3D printing is quickly becoming a part of our everyday lives.

Just imagine:

Within the next couple of years, we may have an entire generation of children growing up with a 3D printer in their homes.

Much like the microwave oven and personal PC, this technology will forever change the way we live.

What Is a 3D Printer and How Does It Work?

A 3D printer is a machine that automates the process of building a three-dimensional object by adding material instead of taking away material (unlike processes such as machining or drilling).

This process is also called additive manufacturing, and it first came about in the 1980s.

Initially, 3D printing was used commercially as a rapid prototyping method in the automotive and aerospace industries. Charles Hull, who later co-founded 3D Systems, was issued a patent for a Stereolithography system (also called SLA for short).

Here's a video of an SLA creating synthetic materials for blood-supply systems:

During the early 1990s many industrial 3D printing companies sprang up, and all started using their own unique printing processes.

However:

Only three of the major 3D printing companies from the Industrial-use only era are still on the market today.

The big three are EOS, Stratasys, 3D Systems.

And get this:

It wasn't until 2009 that 3D printing became commercially available to the general public thanks in part to the expiration Hull's patent.

Fun Fact

"3D printing is now being used to make many conventional organs required for transplants, so there’s less of a wait or a need for donors." ~Tonsoffacts.com

How a 3D printer works

To create a 3D object using a 3D printer, you would use an "additive process."

During this process, a three-dimensional object is created by putting down successive layers of material until it is complete.

To put that more simply:

3D printing is sort of like building a Lego castle from the bottom up.

Only with fewer choking hazards.

Now, this is crazy:

If you have a printer at home, you're technically already using a 3D printer.

Wait, what?

If you print a page of text on your home printer and look at the page through a microscope, you'll notice that the letters don't just stain the paper.

They're actually layered and sitting slightly on top of the page surface.

So in theory:

If you printed over that same page a few thousand times, you'd create enough of a layered build-up of ink to form a solid 3D model of each letter.

This theory is the same principle behind the process of a 3D printer.

Think of it this way:

Imagine recording yourself slicing a loaf of bread.

If you play the video in reverse, it would like your slicing the bread together into a whole loaf.

That's more or less how a 3D printer works.

It creates thousands of tiny slices from the bottom up that stick together in layers to form a solid object.

Are You into RepRap?

RepRap may sound like the title of Arnold Swartzenneger's long-lost debut hip-hop album, but I assure you it's something even more mindblowing.

Now I know what you're thinking:

How could that even be possible?

Well, in 2009, the open source project known as RepRap opened the door to affordable commercial desktop 3D printers.

Then in the years following 2009, new companies started innovating, creating and making improvements to the consumer desktop 3D printer.

Today we enjoy the choice between quality affordable and pricey 3D printers thanks to RepRap.

Many 3D printing hobbyists and professionals also have RepRap to thank for solving many problems that once plagued the 3D printing community. RepRap is also a well-liked model of 3D printer that you can buy in either kit form or fully assembled.

Hundreds of retailers sell their own versions of a RepRap machine, as well as replacement parts and upgrades.

Backward gym shorts not included.

Fun Fact

"HP is planning to produce 3D printers." ~Tonsoffacts.com

What You Can Make With a 3D Printer

With a 3D printer, there are a dizzying number of things you can print.

Here are just a few examples of what people are making at home:

  • Clothing
  • Eyewear
  • Jewelry
  • Containers
  • Furniture
  • Wood objects
  • Tools
  • Shoes
  • Coffee cups
  • Art
  • Working Clocks
  • Light fixtures
  • Toys
  • Tablet Stands
  • Phone cases
  • 3D printed medical models
  • Looms
  • Musical instruments such as acoustic guitars and flutes
  • Camera lens
  • Working guns (more on this later)

Here are just a few examples of how various industries uses 3D printing:

  • Aerospace: Used to build tooling, end-use parts, and prototypes
  • Agriculture: Used to build farming tools, parts, and devices
  • Architecture, engineering, and construction: Used to design, plan, and create models
  • Automotive: Used to design and build prototypes as well as end-use parts and tooling
  • Consumer products: Used to build nearly anything, for example, sneaker bottoms and headphones
  • Education: Teaching aides and prototypes
  • High tech: Allows designers the ability to develop better products faster
  • Industrial equipment: Parts and prototypes
  • Marine and offshore: Allows engineers to develop Marine and Offshore industry equipment faster
  • Medical and life sciences: Researchers, doctors, and medical manufacturers can get products to clinical use more quickly, develop better therapies, and better personalize care
  • Molds, tools, and dies: Prototyping and tool production
  • Oil and gas: Engineers can use more efficient 3D design data at every stage of the development process

Truth be told:

We've barely scratched the surface when it comes to the potential applications of 3D printing.

5 Skills Needed for 3D Printing

If you're looking to use your 3D printer to create items straight out of your imagination, here are some skills you'll need to develop first.

1. GIGO applies here too

Before every project can get underway, there must first come the idea or concept of what you wish to create.

Remember that old computer programming saying, GIGO? It stands for Garbage In, Garbage Out. So your creativity matters.

One of the coolest things about 3D printing is that you can turn that idea into reality reasonably much easier than before.

There's no longer any need to build something with your hands; your 3D printer can do all that.

The only thing you'll need to do is create a blueprint for the 3D printer to follow.

3D printing allows you to think way outside of the box.

You can create objects that wouldn't be possible using traditional manufacturing.

2. Love your camera?

You can create a basic 3D model using only the camera on your mobile phone.

In fact:

There's a growing subset of 3D printing features that allow designers to print 3D photos.

With your camera phone and a 3D printer, your imagination's the limit when it comes to the types of creations you can bring forth into the world.

Fun Fact

"NASA is planning on using lunar dust to print a base on the Moon." ~Tonsoffacts.com

3. How about that pencil?

Drawing is another excellent skill to develop for 3D printing.

Starting out, you may find yourself stuck during the creation process.

This dilemma separates the "makers" from the "non-makers" in the 3D printing world.

When it comes to design issues, literally drawing out your problem can often help you solve the problem.

Even better:

You don't have to be a talented artist to use this trick.

Just the act of drawing has the power to refresh your mind.

While programming and measurements are also useful skills, sketching activates a wholly different but equally important part of your brain.

Just by using some basic sketches, you could quickly start to see your ideas take shape and your design roadblocks crumble.

4. And, then technology you need to know

The ability to use design software on your computer is a great practical skill to have when it comes to 3D printing.

With a 3D design modeling program, you can create awesome designs that can make printing a breeze.

You can even create objects with moving parts.

5. Finally, the most overlooked skill for 3D printing

Networking is a commonly overlooked and undervalued skill in just about any profession or hobby.

Whenever you run into issues that you can't solve, having a vast network of fellow 3D printers is a great resource.

By joining a 3D printing community, such as RepRap, you can unlock your full potential by finding guidance, motivation, and great ideas.

Show off some of your creations and earn bragging rights among your peers.

After all, where's the fun in creating if you can't show off your creations to those who can really appreciate all the hard work you put into it?

Basic 3D Printer Terminology

Here are a few basic terms you'll need to know when you start using your 3D printer.

  • Extruder: Where the material is melted on a 3D printer
  • Filament: A material (often plastic) manufactured as a long strand (like a cable) and used by some types of 3D printers to make objects
  • Nozzle: A small hole from which the melted filament is pushed or extruded out of
  • Bed: The surface area where a 3D printed object is made
  • Heated bed: A heated print surface that provides better adhesion
  • Stepper motor: A very accurate and powerful motor used to move various parts of a 3D printer
  • G-Code: Instructions for a machine instructing it on every movement needed to manufacture a part (not specific to 3D printing)
  • Slicer: This is a piece of software used to convert 3D models into G-Code
  • Axis: Refers to a reference line for movement. A Three axis machine moves in X (left to right), Y (front to back) and Z (up and down)
  • Carriage: A moving part that holds the extruder
  • Raft: A thick grid with a roof added to the base of an object to reduce the chance of warping
  • Skirt: A line that's initially printed around the print (but not connected to the object) to clean the nozzle head
  • Brim: A single flat printer layer around the base of a model used to prevent warping

Materials Used In a 3D Printer

Material

Strength

Stiffness

Durability

Price
(per kg)

Heated Bed

ABS

40 MPa

$ - $$

Required

Flexible

26-43 MPa

$$$

Optional

PLA

65 MPa

$ - $$

Optional

HIPS

32 MPa

$$

Required

PETG

53 MPa

$$ - $$$

Required

Nylon

40-85 MPa

$$ - $$$

Required

Carbon Fiber Filled

40-85 MPa

$$$$

Optional

ASA

55 MPa

$$$

Required

Polycarbonate

72 MPa

$$$$

Required

Polypropylene

32 MPa

$$$$

Required

Metal Filled

20-30 MPa

$$$$

Optional

Wood Filled

46 MPa

$$

Optional

PVA

78 MPa

$$$$

Required

Fun Fact

"You can already print in titanium, ceramics, wood, etc!" ~i.materialise.com

Types of 3D Printing Technology

When it comes to 3D printers, there are a lot of different types from which to choose.

Here are a few of the most popular types of 3D printers.

Stereolithography (SLA)

Developed by 3D Systems' Charles Hull, SLA is the first 3D printing technology.

Unlike other forms of 3D printing, this technology uses an excess of liquid plastic that eventually hardens to form a solid object.

Parts using this method usually have smooth surfaces.

However, the quality depends upon the quality of the SLA printer.

After the plastic hardens, a part of the printer lowers down into the tank filled with liquid resin a fraction of a millimeter.

The laser then begins forming another layer until the printing completes.

After all the layers print, the object is then rinsed using a solvent and placed into an ultraviolet oven to complete the process.

All about Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)

FDM is currently the most popular 3D printing technology.

This technology is in more affordable 3D printers and even 3D pens (which are really cool).

Initially developed by Scot Crump from Stratasys, FDM is similar to a technology called Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) developed by MakerBot.

With FDM you can print not only operational prototypes, but also ready-for-use products such as Legos, plastic gears, and more.

Another cool thing about this technology:

FDM can also use engineering-grade and high-performance thermoplastic used by mechanical engineers and manufacturers.

FDM constructs objects layer by layer from the bottom up by heating and then extruding thermoplastic filament.

The entire process is similar to a technique called stereolithography.

Special programs called slicers cut CAD models into layers and computes the way the printer's extruder needs to assemble each layer.

Objects can also be painted, plated, or even hammered after the process is complete.

Today, FDM technology is in use by industries such as automotive manufacturing, food production, and toy making.

The two most popular types of 3D printers that use FDM technology are Cartesian and Delta printers.

Cartesian

Much like the traditional laser and inkjet printers, Cartesian 3D printers are pretty straightforward.

They utilize the X, Y, and Z axis, using one or more stepper motors to drive each one.

They have a square or rectangular bed.

It's not uncommon for some models to have the entire bed move in one axis.

Delta

Like Cartesian, Delta also makes use of the X, Y, and Z-axis, with one crucial difference.

Delta machines suspend the extruder from three arms in a triangle position.

They will also usually have a circular print bed that does not move.

These machines are designed to print parts very quickly.

Fun Fact

"Scientists already know how to print human organs, skin, bones and a lot of tissue." ~Tonsoffacts.com

What you need to know about Digital Light Processing (DLP)

DLP is another older technology developed in 1987 by Larry Hornbeck of Texas.

The technology became well known for its use in the manufacturing of projectors.

DLP uses digital micromirrors laid out on a semiconductor chip. You can find this technology inside not only 3D printers but also film projectors and mobile phones.

DLP is also similar to SLA in that they both use photopolymers.

However:

The difference between DLP and SLA technology is that DLA requires an extra source of lighting.

Many 3D printing amateurs will use traditional sources of light like arch lamps for DLP printing. The Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) panel is another essential part of DLP.

The panel is applied across the entire surface of the 3D printed layer during a single run of the DLP process. As in SLA, liquid plastic resin is also the substance used in DLP printing.

The Resin hardens fast when exposed to a lot of photons.

In other words:

It reacts and solidifies when exposed to bright light.

Another difference between DLP and SLA is speed. Unlike the much slower processes used to print in SLA, a hardened layer of material can be made within seconds using DLP.

After the layer finishes, it's then transferred, and printing the next layer starts.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

SLS is a technology powered by a laser to form 3D printed objects.

The technique was first developed during the late 1980s by Carl Deckard, a student of Texas University, and his professor Joe Beaman.

This technique is similar to SLA with one notable difference:

SLS uses powdered material in a vat instead of liquid resin in a cube.

Also, unlike other additive production processes like FDM and SLA, SLS doesn't have to use additional support structures as the object is being printed surrounded by unsintered powder.

Additionally, like other techniques, the SLS process begins with the creation of a CAD file which is then converted into a .stl format with special programs.

The material SLS uses for printing can range from nylon, glass, ceramics, to some metals such as silver, aluminum, and steel.

Due to the wide selection of materials, SLS is popular in the 3D printing of many customized goods.

In fact:

There are a lot of startup companies that use cheaper SLS printing machines.

3D Modeling Software

You will most likely need 3D modeling software to help build your 3D prints. The software can serve many different purposes from modeling to sculpting to customizing your prints.

Some programs are great for beginners while others may require advanced skillsets and experience.

Here's a list of some of the top current 3D printing programs along with the corresponding skill set recommended for using them.

  • Tinkercard: Beginner
  • SketchUp: Intermediate to pro
  • SOLIDWORKS: Beginner to pro
  • Blender: Pro
  • Cura: Beginner to pro
  • Repetier: Intermediate to pro
  • Slic3r: Intermediate to pro
  • MeshLab: Intermediate to pro
  • MatterControl: Beginner to pro

There are also dozens more similar programs like these, with costs ranging from free to several hundred dollars.

How to Choose the Right 3D Printer

To find the right 3D printer, you first need to answer a few crucial questions. Answering these questions will help prevent buying the wrong type of 3D printer for your needs.

1. How money matters

3D printers can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.

You can find a lot of great machines in the $400 to $1,000 range, but you will need to make some performance compromises.

2. How size matters

The bigger the print, the bigger the printing bed you'll need.

Most people buy from 6″x6″x6″ and up, with eight inches (200 millimeters squared) being a popular size.

But you can also go much bigger with large capacity printers of varying quality.

Fun Fact

"3D printing is in the movies you watch." ~i.materialise.com

3. Experience matters

Is this your first 3D printer?

Have you ever used 3D printers before?

Depend on your needs and personality, may want to find a machine that suits your level of experience or patience.

For example:

If you're a do-it-yourself (DIY) type of person, then a more advanced model might be right up your alley.

However:

If you want a more user-friendly model, there are lots of appliance-like models that require much less knowledge to get started.

It's wise to pick a model based on the learning curve that you're most comfortable with.

The levels in the 3D printing world can get pretty deep.

4. And now, considering materials

Starting out, most people print using plant-based PLA which is a generic go-to material for most printers.

But you also have other options, here are just a few:

  • Ninjaflex brand TPU filaments
  • ABS
  • PETG
  • PET
  • NYLON
  • Glow-in-the-dark filaments
  • Metal filaments
  • And many more

Depending on the materials you want to use, you may need particular parts on your machine such as a heated bed and heat resistant parts.

5. The pros and cons of filament size

The most common sizes of filaments available are 1.75 and three millimeters.

There can be several advantages and disadvantages associated with each size.

For example:

Three-millimeter filaments are more resistant to bending, making it tenser while winding.

This allows manufacturers to get coils with near-perfect alignment without overlaps.

On the other hand:

Machines with smaller nozzles will use 1.75-millimeter filaments with greater efficiency.

6. The end game

Knowing the purpose of our completed prints can help narrow down the type of printer and materials you'll need.

For example:

Do you need to print detailed figurines? Or less-detailed containers?

Some printers are great for large prints, but not so good at smaller, more detailed items.

7. To tinker or out of the box?

This question borrows from the experience question. Do you want a 3D printer that you can build and tinker with or one that works right out of the box?

It once again boils down to what type of personality you have and the purpose for which you plan to use the 3D printer.

But that's not all:

There is also the question of building, configuring, upgrading, and maintaining your 3D printer.

Do you want to do all these things yourself, or buy a prebuilt machine that requires little configuration and maintenance?

Fun Fact

"The Nokia Lumia 820 housing was 3D printed and it took the Makerbot printer less than a day to finish it."~Tonsoffacts.com

8. Now, about those problems you will have

How important is it for you to have customer support via telephone, chat, or on-site? A lot of people purchase relatively small 3D printers from non-branded companies.

This usually means that their customer service track record can be spotty at best, and non-existent at worse.

That said:

If you require on-site support, this narrows your choices down considerably more.

9. Remember, nothing lasts forever, so take this into consideration

Do you need to have an extended warranty? Once again, many 3D printer manufacturers are pretty shady operations.

Many manufacturers do not offer a warranty or provide a minimal warranty.

It's essential to research the company you buy from to find out what other customers have to say about their warranty and customer support.

Keep in mind:

Right now the 3D printer market is a bit like the earliest days of the internet.

It's a wild wild west marketplace with very little if any regulation, so it's up to you as a consumer to protect yourself.

10. What's your wheelhouse?

Are you comfortable with the specific software, compatibility, or accessibility requirements? Do you use a Windows, Linux, or a MAC operating system?

The software available for your machine may depend on what type of OS your computer uses.

Also:

If you have specific physical constraints, you may not want printers that require a lot of bending to operate.

11. Why your country matters

Not every printer has delivery options or payment methods convenient for all countries.

Printers are usually large and hefty machines.

So as you can imagine the cost of shipping these devices from countries such as Australia can be quite expensive.

12. Now, about users

The answer to this question is also an essential factor.

Are you getting a 3D printer for your kids, parents, or grandparents?

Is it for a designer or engineer?

The type of person or persons who will use the machine can help you decide what features you'll need.

For example:

A machine with a hotbed may not be appropriate for children.

Fun Fact

"The RepRap Project is a 3D printing open source project that teaches you how to build a home with a 3D printer." ~Tonsoffacts.com

13. Ok, let's talk about environment

There are also other considerations such as the environment.

Do you need a machine that can operate in clean environments such as a classroom or lab?

Or, perhaps a 3D printer that works well for dustier environments like a garage or workshop?

Getting the right machine for the right environment can reduce the risk of injury, mechanical failure, and accidents.

Buying a 3D Printer Versus Using a 3D Printing Service

There are several things to consider before either purchasing a 3D printer or using a 3D printing service.

One of the main reasons to buy a 3D printer is to have fun and create.

When you buy a 3D printer, you have direct control over the quality and design of your prints. With a service, you're more or less at the mercy of another person or team to create what you envision.

The cost of a service can be higher or lower depending on your needs.

For example:

If you want to start a business creating 3D printed products, then using a service will likely be more expensive than learning how to make the product yourself.

On the other hand:

If there is a 3D item that you would like to have made in time for someone's birthday, then a service might be the fastest and least expensive avenue.

Fun Fact

"The 3D printing market is expected to grow at 23% annually through 2020, reaching $8.4 billion dollars." ~Tonsoffacts.com

Simple Steps to 3D Printing on an FDM 3D Printer

Here are a few simple steps to illustrate printing on an FDM 3D printer.

Keep in mind each model and printer type may have slightly or vastly different processes. Also, before you can print, you'll need to load the proper G-Code into your printer.

You can create your own G-Code or find tons of codes online and download them to use in your 3D printer.

Your printer should have instructions for doing this.

Step 1

First, you'll need to unbox and assemble your 3D printer.

If your printer is pre-built, there may not be much to do. However, if you have a kit, then you'll need to follow the instructions to put it together.

Step 2

Next, you're going to need to prepare your build plate for a print.

Here you have several options for ensuring that your print sticks to the bed.

You can use blue painters tape, polyimide tape, hair spray, glue sticks, or BuildTak sheets, just to name a few.

Step 3

Now you'll need to heat up your new printer.

The temperature of the nozzle depends on the type of filament you use.

For example:

For PLA, set the nozzle temperature between 383 and 455-degrees Fahrenheit.

Be sure to check with your 3D printer's manufacturer for the correct temperature guidelines.

A heated bed should be set at more than 140-degrees Fahrenheit for PLA.

Step 4

In this step, you will load or unload the filament.

Some printers give you the option of loading and unloading the filament in their controller menu.

Make sure that the extruder isn't already loaded with filament, if so then you'll need to remove it.

To load your filament, first push the release lever.

Next, push the new filament through the filament hole.

You should begin to see some flow come out of the nozzle.

Once you see some filament exit the nozzle, you've finished loading the printer.

Step 5

Next, you're going to need to level the bed.

If you're lucky enough to own a self-leveling printer, then select the control menu and let your 3D printer do all the work of leveling.

If you own a manual leveling printer, you'll need to ensure the bed lever adjusting screws are completely tight on all four corners.

Next, select "Home the Z-Axis" in your control menu and then select "Disable Steppers."

After that, find a sheet of paper and fold it in half.

Move the nozzle to within one inch of each of the four corner positions.

You'll need to adjust the bed up by loosening the leveler knobs while shifting the folded paper between the nozzle and the bed until the nozzle just pinches the paper.

Step 6

After leveling your bed, you should be ready for your first test print.

It's not the Enterprise... nobody wants warp!

One major problem you will experience with your prints is warping (also called curling).

Most 3D printer warping issues typically occur when an object is cooling unevenly after printing.

Cooling causes contraction which causes stress along the object's lateral surfaces.

The quicker the cooling, the greater stress is placed on the object.

The stress is most significant at the points where corners meet on an object.

Here are some things that can help prevent warping

  • Heated print bed: Can improve adhesion and uniform curing of the object during printing
  • Rafts: A horizontal latticework of filament under your object increasing both stability and bed adhesion
  • Skirts: An outline that surrounds your object but does not touch it, these can allow you to detect and adjust leveling
  • Brims: Particular types of skirts that attach to the edges of your object and hold down the edges of your object improving bed adhesion

Fun Fact

"In Belgium, biomedical specialists implanted a 3D printed titanium jawbone into an 83-year-old woman." ~Tonsoffacts.com

Other anti-warping best practices

Here are a few anti-warping best practices that you can employ.

This should be done for all prints regardless of what material you use.

Calibrate your nozzle height!

Proper calibration translates into consistent layer heights, which directly impacts the entire print.

It also ensures that the object correctly adheres to the bed.

Use the correct build surface

Using the right build surface will help ensure that your part doesn't curl during printing.

It's also a good idea to keep your build surface clean to prevent bed adhesion issues further.

Slow your roll, player

The tried and true principle of "slow and steady wins the race" holds especially true when it comes to 3D printing.

Printing slower is especially recommended for objects with sharp or jagged edges.

Slower print speeds can improve adherence on those sharp corners.

Reduce infill

By reducing infill, you can relieve a lot of internal pressure and contraction of warping filament which places an unwanted strain on your object's perimeters.

Close that window!

The ambient temperature of the area where you are printing can also have adverse effects on your print.

Make sure to close ventilation, open windows, and doorways while printing.

Ambient air currents can wreak havoc on objects.

Using enclosures such as cardboard boxes and curtains around the printer can help improve air stability around your prints.

Legal Considerations

3D printing raises a few serious legal questions.

One question concerns intellectual property rights.

For example:

Let's say you decide to 3D print an exact copy of some Ray Ban sunglasses that you saw at the store?

Or, perhaps you print a replica of someone else's artwork.

Under the law, these actions could land you in legal peril should the owner of the copyrighted object decide to pursue legal recourse.

There are also questions as to whether or not a 3D digital file qualifies for protection under the current copyright law in the same way software does.

Fun Fact

"NASA has made a 3D printed pizza to feed astronauts in outer space." ~Tonsoffacts.com

Then there's the issue of 3D printed firearms and ammo.

Recently, there's been a hot debate over whether or not 3D printed firearms should be illegal.

The social, moral, and legal ramifications of working 3D printed firearms and ammunition are issues that the U.S. Supreme Court may have to decide in the near future.

Ready to really feel like it's Star Trek?

There's also the recent story about a researcher from the University of Glasgow who created a "Chemputer," which could potentially allow people to start printing medicines.

This technology not only has the potential to create harmful legal drugs, but also illegal drugs as well.

Health and Safety

While 3D printing technology is relatively safe, there are a few health and safety concerns that you need to be aware of.

Obviously, eating that 3D printed plastic cheeseburger isn't a good idea. But there are also more practical health concerns, such as dinnerware and other 3D printed objects that come into contact with food.

One of the main problems is that most 3D printed objects (especially those printed on poor quality machines) are very porous.

This increases the likelihood of bacteria growth within these objects.

There's also the residue of the materials being used, which can still linger on the surface.

Some objects also suffer molecular damage when exposed to extreme temperatures, such as hot water from a dishwasher.

The 3D printing process can also release low amounts of chemical emissions and ultrafine particles into the air and onto surrounding surfaces.

As for its environmental impact, 3D printing is said to use between 50 and 100 times more electricity than other alternative manufacturing methods.

For example:

3D printing uses up to 50 times more electricity than injection-molding techniques.

So, keep that in mind when it comes to your electricity bill.

However, there's one immediate concern that deserves your full attention:

3D printers can be fire hazards.

It's important to follow a few necessary safety precautions such as:

  • Keep a fire extinguisher close by
  • Keep your workspace clean and tidy
  • Beware of using carriage chains for cable management
  • Secure your hot end, then secure it again
  • Smoke detectors are your friends, give them batteries and test them often

Alternatives to 3D printing

There are a few emerging technologies that are already challenging the 3D printer.

Two examples are Rapid Liquid Printing and Thermoforming.

Rapid Liquid Printing

Rapid Liquid Printing is an experimental form of manufacturing developed by MIT in collaboration with Steelcase, a U.S. furniture maker.

The prototype device draws objects in a 3D space by ejecting a material compound from a computer-operated nozzle into a stabilizing gel.

This technique allows for the manufacturing of large-scale freeform objects, such as furniture, and is much faster than 3D printing.

Let me break that down:

Researchers managed to print one part in only 10 minutes that took 50 hours on a traditional 3D printer.

Thermoforming

While Rapid Liquid Printing is pretty cool, by far the most magic-like 3D printing alternative has to be Thermoforming.

Developed by Interactive Geometry Lab in Zürich, Switzerland, this technique seems to pop out of the pages of a Harry Potter novel. The process uses computational thermoforming to bring computer-generated models into existence within seconds.

In the process, a heat resistant material, such as gypsum or aluminum used to create a mold for the end-products desired shape.

Then they heat up a flat plastic sheet to near its melting point.

At that point, a vacuum pulls the sheet over the mold.

The plastic sheet instantly and permanently takes the shape of the mold.

Best of all:

The mold can be reused making it ideal for mass production.

The Future of 3D printing

3D printers are already revolutionizing many manufacturing industries.

It looks like the future of this technology may continue that trend, perhaps breaking the mass production barrier that currently inhibits the technology.

However, the future also holds some concerns as the issue of 3D printed firearms, ammo, and possibly someday even drugs enter the conversation.

There is also the question of environmental, safety, and energy concerns inherent in the current technology and if those issues will ever be resolved.

Also, what will this technology ultimately mean for economies around the world that depend on manufacturing?

Is 3D printing the automation boogyman that will cost millions of jobs?

Fun Fact

"The 3Doodler Printing Pen is a pen that can be used to print 3D objects in the air." ~Tonsoffacts.com

But let's not overlook some more inspiring outlooks, such as how 3D printing could change medicine as we know it with 3D printed tissue.

Right now this technology holds more questions than answers, but that's okay.

Exciting new possibilities should do that, and hopefully, these questions will give rise to brilliant minds who'll strive to meet their challenge.

We hope you've found this information on 3D printers useful in your research and we wish you the best of luck in creating your vision.