3D printing is a technology which allows the creation of very diverse objects, in various materials. Thus, it is a powerful tool for creativity, thanks to the numerous possibilities it offers. How does 3D printing work? Which are the different technologies that can produce 3D objects? In this post, we will introduce you to the basics of 3D printing to help you get a clear overview of this technology.
What is 3D printing?
3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, is a manufacturing technology which produces parts after 3D models, created with CAD software or found online. With it, you can produce numerous objects, layer per layer, in various materials. This manufacturing technology is particularly useful to create parts with a complex design, hard to produce with more traditional techniques.
To use 3D printing, there are several options. You can either purchase your own 3D printer if you have quite important needs, or you can use a professional 3D printing service such as Sculpteo, to avoid to invest in a machine. You will also get access to a wider choice of materials for each of your projects, and you will benefit from a quality customer support to give you a hand.
You can also read this great article if you want to have a complete view of what is 3D printing.
Plastic 3D printing technologies
Plastic is one of the most used 3D printing materials. Numerous options are available, with diverse technologies. Here’s a little overview of the main additive manufacturing techniques.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
With the FDM technology, the printer makes filaments melt and deposits the material layer per layer in order to produce the object. It is the most used 3D printing technology for desktop 3D printers. It is generally easy to use and not expensive. On the other hand, parts produced through this technology are usually less strong and precise than the ones made with other techniques.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
Selective Laser Sintering is the most used professional 3D printing technology to produce plastic parts. A laser fuses some parts of a batch of plastic powder, layer per layer. Numerous materials are available for this technology, from strong and rigid plastics, to flexible materials.
Printed part in PA12 nylon, with SLS technology
Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)
The Multi Jet Fusion technology, recently elaborated by HP, is very similar to the SLS technology. It produces parts faster thanks to the use of a binding agent which helps to fuse the powder, and thus reduces the need for high temperatures for the fusion to occur. Quite young, this technology can only manufacture grey and black parts for now.
Resin 3D printing technologies
Resins are also very interesting materials to produce parts thanks to additive manufacturing. There are two major technologies: Polyjet and CLIP.
The Polyjet 3D printing technology is based on a process which is similar to 2D printing. The printer jets little drops of photopolymer liquid which hardens instantly thanks to UV lights. The parts obtained have a very smooth surface. It is even possible to get translucent parts thanks to a special finishing process.
Printed part with CLIP technology
The CLIP technology, created by Carbon, can produce objects in numerous resins, either rigid or flexible, with various properties, but always extremely fast. It is based on an innovative process. A continuous sequence of UV images is projected on a liquid resin bath, which solidifies the material. In the meantime, the building platform goes up without stopping until the end of the process. Thus, here, the object is manufactured continuously and not layer per layer.
Metal 3D printing technologies
3D printing metal parts is interesting for numerous applications, both in the industrial world and to create jewelry parts or decorative objects. Several technologies exist, with various costs.
Selective Laser Melting (SLM)
With the Selective Laser Melting technology, also called SLM, a laser fuses metal powder directly, layer per layer, until the final object is ready. Since you need to reach the fusion temperature of the chosen metal, heating and cooling times are quite important. The parts obtained are particularly strong.
Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
Very similar to the SLS plastic 3D printing technology, Direct Metal Laser Sintering is a technology where a batch of metal powder is fused layer per layer by a laser to manufacture objects. Contrary to the SLM technology, the powder is not totally fused, just sintered, which reduces the need for a high temperature, and thus shortens heating and cooling times.
Parts printed with 3D binder projection printing technology, plated
The Binder Jetting 3D printing technology can produce parts at a lower cost compared to other technologies dedicated to metal. Indeed, the printer head deposits a binding agent on the metal powder before fusing it, which reduces the need for a high temperature to manufacture the part. As a consequence, the object is faster to produce, and thus, cheaper.
Casting, also called low-wax casting, is a technology which uses additive manufacturing to produce metal parts. A first version of the object is 3D printed in wax, then a plaster mold is made after it, before filling it with liquid metal. This technology is mainly used in the jewelry field.
The diversity of 3D printing technologies allows to use this technique in numerous situations, either to create pieces of jewelry, or mechanical parts. To learn more about the different applications of additive manufacturing, we invite you to take a look at Sculpteo’s 3D printing blog! If you would like to benefit from a discount of 7 euros on your first 3D printing at Sculpteo, you can use the voucher code MYFIRSTPRINT.