How does a 3D Printer Work

Article title: Everything You Need to Know About 3D Printers

One of the major developments in the printing industry today is the 3D printer. 3D printing, which is the opposite of subtractive manufacturing, has led to the success of many industries that rely on printing. These include automotive, aviation, construction, healthcare, aerospace, food and education. While these industries touch the lives of most of us, we need to reap the benefits that come with 3D printers. Unlike other traditional manufacturing methods, 3D printing enables you to come up with complex shapes using less material.

How Does A 3D Printer Work?

Is 3D printing only for major corporations and engineers? Initially, the technology benefited more the creation of engineering prototypes. However, recent advances have pushed 3D printing into various industries and home usage. Introduced recently, 3D printing might not be a household technology yet. However, through rapid innovations in the field, technology is leading a revolution beyond conventional manufacturing methods. It is crucial to understand how 3D printers operate, and how you can make a 3D printer an exciting addition to your business or home.

3D printing entails the creation of a three dimensional part or product, printed in thin layers of material, as controlled by a digital file you create. 3D objects start with a digital blueprint generated via computer-aided design software. With a ready blueprint, the next step is to:

Gather the raw materials
Fill your printer with the materials,
Prepare the 3D build platform

After the above preparations, the physical object is printed, layer by layer, in line with the computer-aided design (CAD) blueprint. The materials used are mainly metals and plastics (although recent innovations have increased the types of usable materials).

Which 3D printer do you choose?

To most of us, 3D is a new technology to which we are yet to adapt. It’s therefore important to take your time to investigate which printer is best for you. Bearing in mind that you don’t wish to spend too much time fiddling, we have provided you with the key things to keep in mind as you research what’s best for you.

Decide whether to Build Your Own or Buy

You may wish to try your hand in building a 3D printer on your own. Building your own could be cheaper than buying. Unfortunately, most of us have busy schedules and won’t get enough time for all that. So what’s the solution? Buy a pre-assembled printer. However, your final decision will depend on if you wish to fiddle with the technology or to start printing immediately.

Software Specifications

Is the software powerful and configurable? Is it easy to use? To understand such specifications you ought to be very technical. But oops! Most of us are new in this, so what’s the way? Initially go for easy to use software overpower. 3D printers that use the open-source Repetier and Cura programs are usually easy to use.

The Print Resolution and speed

Printing speed is inversely proportional to print resolution. What’s the implication? Higher-resolution enhances more details, which need slower printing speed. For instance, printing a baseball will considerably take shorter than printing a shoe.

The configuration of the print head also affects the printing speed. For example, at a slower speed, a small nozzle will produce superfine prints. Contrary, a large nozzle will be quick, but the print quality will be low.

Materials used

Although there are many materials used for printing, Poly Lactic Acid and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene are the best for 3D. The materials are thermoplastic and become soft and malleable when heated. They will freeze on cooling. We shall look at the characteristics of each.

Poly Lactic Acid

Derived from corn starch and ideal for beginners
Ideal for creating simple and small household items
Available in solid and translucent colors, giving printed objects a stunning appearance
Cools faster than ABS, hence no warping
Biodegradable and environmentally friendly
Has a low melting point that may make models deform under high heat
Difficult to form interlocking parts and joints

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene

Has high melting points, such that your creations don’t deform under high heat
Highly flexible, hence easier to create interlocking pieces
Takes long to cool and is susceptible to warping
Emits fumes during the creation


Some 3D printers will require you to calibrate the bed. As a result, you will need to put a piece of paper on the print bed and use the software to move the print med towards the nozzle. The whole process takes about 10 minutes. Some printers will come readily calibrated; the choice depends on your preference.


3D printers come in different prices, which mainly depend on the quality of the output. Generally, high-quality printers tend to be expensive. Professional printers such as the MakerBot series tend to be the most expensive. For a beginner, however, it’s ideal to start with a simple model that costs less.

Advantages of 3D Printing over other Manufacturing Methods

The benefits associated with 3D printing make the most promising technology. Recent research shows that about 70 percent of manufacturing companies are now using 3D printing. It further shows that 22 percent of other manufacturers expect their effect on the supply chain to become more disruptive. Unlike the usual traditional manufacturing methods, 3D opens a whole new way of creating products and removes the constraints that we have experienced through the other methods. Here are some of the key benefits associated with 3D printing Technology:

Faster Production

The speed of 3D printing can’t be compared to convection manufacturing. It’s like comparing the speed of a racing car to that of a horse cart. Some might argue that both will get to the destination, but the time difference will tell it all. 3D production takes just hours, as opposed to the conventional method that could take days or even several weeks.

Less waste

3D Printing uses the required amount of materials to create a product, which helps to minimize wastes. Although conventional methods have re-usable and recyclable wastes, it will still take you much effort and many days to decide how and when the waste will be managed. This makes 3D printing a very sustainable option.

Use of more efficient materials

3D printing technology offers access to sturdy materials that are enough for use in a wide variety of products. It is a technology that has no limits and as more industries turn to it, the use will significantly increase to a wider range of industries. For instance, as the car industry and aerospace turn to 3D parts, it will result in lighter cars or aircraft, which will enhance their performance.

Reduction in Storage Space

Today, many industries require firms to store parts and products that they deal with. As a result, a substantial amount of space is needed for such commodities that need long term storage, some for weeks or even months. 3D printing technology helps solve the problem by making it possible for products to be made and sold simultaneously. This helps to eliminate overproduction as well as to reduce storage costs.

Less Travelling Costs

3D printing helps to minimize the amount of distance that a part or product will travel. 3D printers can mold a product from beginning to end. This benefit enables you to design a product in your country then email it directly to another before production. There is no need to create prototypes that require physical movement from factory to factory for the process to be complete.

Components of a 3D Printer

Before going deep into the various types of 3D printers, let’s take a moment to list the major parts of the machine. A 3D printer has many parts, each playing an important role in the printing process. These parts and their uses include:

The frame, that holds the printer together
The head movement mechanics- move in all direction relative to the print bed
3D Printer head- the nozzle that applies color and liquid binder
A build Bed- the part where the image is printed
Stepper motors that are used for speed control and precise positioning
3D Printer Electronics that are used to drive the extruder and to drive the motors
Firmware- the permanent software that is used to control all aspects of the printer
3D Printer software that enables the whole printing process

Other equally important components include:

Build Area- the maximum size of a product that you can create with your 3D printer
Filament Diameter- most printers work with 1.75 or 3mm filament diameter
The Hot Head- the part where the plastic is melted and extruded in tiny layers. It enhances active cooling, maximum printing temperature, and options to change the nozzle size
The Extruder- this is the component that connects the filament to the hot head
Cooling Fan- it dramatically improves overhanging features, resulting in good bridging capabilities
Heated Bed- it keeps the plastic warm during the printing process, preventing it from warping. The component also enhances better adhesion between the layers, resulting in a better quality of the printed parts
LCD Display- The display controller enables you to print without connecting a computer or software such as Cura. The display provides for more efficient space usage and frees up your computer for other jobs
Multiple Extruders- enable you to print in multiple colors or simultaneously by assigning each extruder a specific material or color

3D Printers Types/ Technologies

There are several types of 3D printers, based on the technology used. Some 3D technologies support materials that dissolve in a chemical bath, while others using the surrounding powder. Here are the most common types.

Fused Deposition Modeling

The technology uses production-grade thermal plastic materials to print parts and objects. It’s known to create accurate details, concept models, and functional prototypes. FDM is ideal for creating and manufacturing due to its outstanding strength to weight ratio.

Selective laser Sintering Technology

Invented by Dr. Carl Deckard, the SLS technology uses high power carbon (II) oxide lasers to join particles together. Although the lasers use powdered metal materials, they also utilize other materials such as nylon powder glass or even ceramics.

Digital Light Processing Technology

DLPT is the oldest 3D printing technology, invented by Larry Hornbeck in I987. The printer uses a liquid plastic resin that goes into a translucent resin container. It operates much like the SLA. However, DLPT uses a more traditional light source while the SLA uses ultraviolet light.

Stereolithography SLA Technology

The technology is popular for its fine details and exactness. 3D printers using this technology create unique models, prototypes, patterns, and several other production parts. The printers convert liquid photopolymers into solid 3D objects, layer after layer.

Electric Beam Melting Technology

EBM is similar to SLM in that it uses the powder bed fusion technique. They, however, vary in power sources. While the SLM uses a high powdered laser in a chamber of inert gas, EBM uses a powerful beam of electrons in a vacuum. EBM is mainly used to print metal parts, due to its ability to create complex geometries.

Binder jetting (BJ) Technology

The technology was first invented by the Massachusetts Institute of technology. Its other names are inkjet, drop-on-powder or powder bed printing. The technology uses two types of materials to create objects; a bonded agent and a powder-based material, with the bonding agent acting as a strong adhesive to bid the powder layers together.

So, what are the applications of 3D Printing Technology?

Over the last few years, 3D printing has modernized a variety of industries within and beyond the dominion of traditional and conventional manufacturing. Its industrial applications include:

Automotive companies print spare parts, fixtures, jigs, tools as well as end-use parts. 3D printing has enhanced on-demand manufacturing, leading to short production cycles
Casting in concrete for engineering projects
Assembly of crash dummies to simulate crash impacts for passengers
Printing and customizing auto parts
In the health industry, the use of isomalt sugar to create biological structures

Any Limitations Associated with 3D Printers?

Although it is cheaper to buy a 3D printer than to set up a factory, the cost per item produced might be higher. Additionally, the technology neither achieves a finely smooth finish nor a range of sizes available via industrial processes.

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