3D printing has become a big thing in both consumer and industrial markets. It has the potential to completely revolutionise multiple industries and give home users a new method to explore their creative sides. It has quickly expanded into a multi-billion dollar industry and will continue to grow as companies come up with more inventive ways to use these machines
3D printers work by layering a material on top of each other generally relying on the previous layer to set by the time the next layer is ready.
The general concept is quite simple but it is largely reliant on what material you are using to create your object.
Without a doubt, plastics are the most common material used for both home users and commercial. They are cheap and easy to work with while delivering high performance in terms of durability and rigidity.
Low-cost 3D printers using plastic tend to use Fused filament fabrication (FFF). This is basically a process where a cord of plastic is heated up to become pliable then fed through the machine layering the plastic. The machines generally use one of the following plastics
PLA (Polylactic Acid) – PLA is probably the easiest material to work with when you first start 3D printing. It is an environmentally friendly material that is very safe to use, as it is a biodegradable thermoplastic that has been derived from renewable resources such as corn starch and sugar canes. This is a similar plastic we use in our compostable bags which safely bio degrade compared to more traditional plastics used in our Poly Bags.
ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) – ABS is considered to be the second easiest material to work with when you start 3D printing. It’s very safe and strong and widely used for things like car bumpers, and lego (the kid's toy).
PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol Plastic) – PVA plastic which is quite different to PVA Glue (please don’t try putting PVA Glue into your 3D Printer, it definitely won’t work). The popular MakerBot Replicator 2 printers use PVA plastic.
The more interesting things start to happen with more expensive printers that can use different types of materials. Some printers can use powdered material that is then heated to create a solid. This method is typically Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) and one of the best applications of this is using titanium. This is layered on in powder then a laser is used to sinter it together. Titanium has a similar tensile strength to steel (sometimes much higher depending on the alloy) but it is considerably lighter. This makes it widely used in the aerospace industry, and this industry has embraced 3D printing allowing them to print any part they need on demand. GE Aviation actually printed 35,000 fuel injectors for its LEAP jet engine.
3D printing is even expanding into far more exotic materials and industries. The medical industry has started to produce living parts such as bone, muscle and cartilage which have all been successfully tested on animals. Currently, there is research an artificial heart, kidney, and liver structures, as well as other major organs.
Possibly even more interesting is the research being carried out on printing molecules on demand. Scientists could have access to any molecule in the world on demand whenever they need.