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What is 3D printing?
3D printing is a method of creating physical three-dimensional objects through an additive rather than reductive process. As opposed to utilizing a solid block of material and removing all the unnecessary material until the desired object is created (as is used in machining and milling processes), 3D printing creates objects by bonding the print material one cross section at a time.
How does it do it?
3D printers work by making use of 3D design files, such as those created in AutoCAD or similar applications. These files are processed by specialized software that slices the data into cross sections. The printer uses this data to build the desired object from the bottom up one layer at a time. Pendergrass’ printer uses the fused deposition modeling (FDM) process, which utilizes thermoplastics in filament form. This filament is fed to a nozzle that heats the plastic to its melting point and then extrudes the material onto the build surface according to instructions from the CAD data.
Why 3D printing? Why is it used? What is the purpose?
3D printing enables designers to rapidly turn their ideas into models that can then be observed for form, fit, and function.
It is often easier to hand someone a model of a project to get your idea across rather than a drawing or explanation.
If you are developing a new product, you can use a 3D printer to take advantage of the process called rapid prototyping. Rapid prototyping allows designers to create as many different iterations of an object as necessary to get the dimensions and form correct before going to full production. Full production of an object usually involves the costly process of creating dies and tools or utilizing manufacturing processes such as milling, forging, and/or casting. With 3D printing, these costs are greatly reduced because the 3D print material is cheaper by comparison and allows the designer to perfect the object before going to the production phase. If changes are made to a design after dies, tools, or other manufacturing implements are fabricated, they must be abandoned and new ones created adding to the time and expense of product development.
3D printers can also be used to fabricate replacement parts for household items that break. All one needs is a CAD file of the part, or for those with design skills, you can make your own CAD drawing. An alternative to using CAD is to utilize a 3D scanner to scan an object and then print it from the resulting file.