Explaining How 3D Printers Work and What You Can Do with Them
Even the best artists can’t show us what a real-life object would look like in all of its 3D glory, and most of the time it doesn’t really matter, since looking at a sketch or image is enough to give you a good idea. However, if you are in the business of developing products that you need to show to customers or clients, nothing compares to having a prototype – a model that you can hold, touch and feel. Up until recently, most models took a lot of time to be made by hand, and most machines that could make quick prototypes cost up to half a million dollars. And this is where 3D printers came in and changed the game.
How Does a 3D Printer Work?
Picture building a traditional wooden prototype of a car. You’ll have to start off with a block of solid wood and then start carving inwards like a sculptor, slowly revealing the insides of the object. Or, imagine making an architect’s house model, you’ll have to construct it like a real, pre-fab house, cutting miniature replicas of all the walls out of cardboard and gluing them all together. On the other hand, a laser can easily carve wood into the desired shape, and even training a robot to stick cardboard together, but those methods can be complicated and expensive.
A 3D printer functions similarly as an inkjet printer operated from a computer. It builds 3D models layer after layer, from the bottom-up by utilising a method known as FDM (fused depositional modeling). This entire process is automatic, and the printer creates a model in a matter of hours by turning a 3D CAD drawing into many cross-sectional, two-dimensional layers, thus effectively separating 2D prints that are placed on top of each other without any paper in between. Further, instead of using ink that would never build up enough in volume, 3D printers deposit layers of powder or molten plastic and fuse them together with UV light or adhesive.
How Much is a 3D Printer?
In the 3D printer world, you get what you pay for. The cheapest 3D printers cost around $200, whereas high-end consumer and industrial printers can cost several thousand dollars. Although the cost of 3D printers has dropped significantly over the past few years, expect to pay at least $1000 for a quality hobbyist 3D printer. Professional 3D printers, on the other hand, such as the Funmat HT, for example, cost considerably more – around several thousand dollars – depending on the specific model.
However, with the Funmat HT you can print a wide range of materials, including ABS, Nylon, Polycarbonate, PEEK and PEI. Further, it comes with an automated bed levelling that allows for easier setup, and advanced drivers that make it extremely reliable and accurate. Additionally, it features two removable glass beds and two changeable extruders – one for lower temperature materials and the other for high-temperature materials.
What Can You Use a 3D Printer For?
You can use a 3D printer to print almost anything. The only limits are the materials you print with, the precision of your printer, and the accuracy of the model from which you print. Even though 3D printing has been around for over 25 years now, it only became so popular several years ago. A large portion of the technology is relatively new, but still, the range of applications for 3D printing is pretty broad.
For instance, 3D printing is used in medicine, and there are already cases of 3D printed ears, arms, legs, muscles and even artificial cells, tissue and skin. Although we might be far away from having complete 3D printed organs like livers and hearts, things are quickly moving in that direction. Besides replacing body parts, 3D printing is also used for medical training and education, where surgeons practice surgery on 3D printed models of hearts and even brains.
Another example of the broad use of 3D printing is in the aerospace industry. Since designing and testing aeroplanes is extremely complex and expensive, engineers rely on computer models to test a couple of aspects of how planes operate. However, they still need precise prototypes in order to test things like the wind-tunnel. 3D printers provide an effective, yet simple way to accomplish this. And while commercial planes are built in mass production, military planes require a lot of customisation, which 3D printing makes possible both cost-effectively and rather quickly.
These two examples of 3D applications are a clear indicator that if 3D prints can be utilised in these highly-sensitive, advanced industries, they can be used for pretty much anything else, including candy wrappers, toothbrushes, jewellery, bike parts, figurines, tools and so on.