What is 3D Printing?

While choosing a 3D printing solution can be difficult, ARRK’s experienced team in San Diego offers customers a comprehensive range of 3D printing services and solutions to help mechanical engineers and product designers develop and evaluate new products rapidly. This article will delve into what is 3D printing in detail.

3D printing is an additive manufacturing process which produces 3D prototype parts layer by layer directly from 3D CAD data under computer control. The first step involves designing the 3D prototype part by using a suitable CAD software or 3D scanning. This 3D CAD file is then prepared for building the 3D prototype by having the computer software slice it into hundreds of horizontal layers depending on its size. The 3D printer reads each sliced pattern produced by the CAD software and prints the prototype part one layer at a time.

Not all 3D printers use the same technology to produce 3D prototypes. All printers are additive but where they differ is how the layers are built. A few methods include the use of curing, dispensing, melting or sintering the material in order to produce these layers. Additionally, these 3D prototypes can be produced from either production or production-like materials which are available in either powder form, filaments or resins. Stereolithography (SLA), selective laser sintering (SLS), PolyJet™ and fused deposition modeling (FDM) are the most common ways to print a 3D prototype part.

Stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing technology uses a vat of ultraviolet curable photopolymer resin and an ultraviolet laser to build 3D prototypes one layer at a time. The first layer is printed as soon as the laser traces the first cross section of the prototype pattern on the surface of the liquid resin. SLA’s elevator platform then descends by a distance that is equal to one layer. After the machine descends to where it needs to be, a blade sweeps across the cross section of the first cured layer, re-coating it with fresh material. This creates a new liquid surface and the subsequent layer pattern is traced, joining the previous layer. This process is repeated until the entire prototype is printed.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printing technology uses a high power laser to fuse the powdered material together. These materials include small particles of plastic, metal and ceramic powders. When metal powder is used for printing the prototype it is called direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) or metal 3D printing. The first layer of the 3D prototype is printed when the laser scans the first layer generated by the CAD software. After the first layer of the 3D prototype part is printed, the powdered bed is lowered by one layer of thickness. A new layer of material is then applied across the first sintered layer by a rolling mechanism. The newly formed layer is sintered on top of the first layer and this process continues until the entire prototype is printed.

PolyJet is another additive manufacturing technology which produces prototype parts directly from 3D CAD data by depositing droplets of material like an ink-jet printer into solid cross-sections, layer by layer. After the first layer is deposited, the bed is lowered to deposit the next layer of material. This process is repeated until the entire prototype is printed. PolyJetTM 3D printers can mix both soft and rigid materials together simultaneously to produce 3D prototypes.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is another additive manufacturing technology which produces 3D prototypes by dispensing material through an orifice or a nozzle. The 3D prototype is created by dispensing actual production-grade thermoplastic material to print layers. This process needs to be done quickly because the material hardens as soon as it leaves the nozzle. In order for this process to work effectively, the nozzle needs to be heated past their glass transition temperature which turns the material into a rubber like state. The prototype parts are made bottom up one layer at a time until the entire prototype is printed.

If you are searching for a quality rapid prototyping service provider, let ARRK help you. In addition to 3D printing, ARRK also offers a comprehensive range of rapid prototyping services including CNC machining and vacuum casting (also called urethane casting). You can visit ARRK’s 3D printing page for more information. While on the website you can upload your native CAD file to request a quote for quick and reliable pricing.

Created by RedOrum