Imagine a printer that is capable of printing out a 3D object, from something as simple as a cup to something as complex as a medical instrument. As crazy as it may sound initially, this is exactly what 3D printing is capable of doing, building objects with a minimum thickness of just 0.06 mm. Unlike other methods of machining or sawing, which are subtractive processes, 3D printing is an additive process. 3D printers build an object layer by layer using semi-solid materials forms of plaster,polymer or metal.
What methods of 3D printing are available?
1) Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
In this method, the target object is formed by forming layer after layer using the hot melted thermoplastic. A nozzle exudes this spool of material in beads, and each layer is left to dry before another layer is added to form the 3D version. All kinds of semi-liquid materials including ABS plastics, poly lactic acid and even liquid chocolate can be used to build objects with this method. This method of printing is one of the most popular and low-cost versions available in the market. The company Stratasys was the pioneer of 3D printers using this technology.
2) Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
SLS uses a powerful laser to join granules of powder together to form the object layer by layer. Even this method is flexible with its ingredients, as the powder used can be metallic, plastic or ceramic. However, this is mostly an enterprise-level method as it requires a powerful laser which is not common for home use.
3) Inkjet printing
This process mimics the common inkjet printing used at home and in offices, using a mix of resins and binder material.A print head moves across a bed of powder and applies a binding liquid in the shape of the cross section of the object. Just like other methods, the object is built up in layers. The unique thing about this method is that it allows custom colors.
4) Digital Light Processing(DLP)
As the name suggests, this method uses the power of light to solidify a vat of liquid plastic by exposing the liquid to light. This is an extremely accurate printing method as well. Each layer of the 3D object is solidified and the light is exposed to form the next layer, eventually resulting in the entire object.
Commercial VS. Consumer Applications
3D printing is making waves across many industries. Last year, 2 students in the UK printed a complete drone that they fitted with electronics and instrumentation and flew. Airbus is also making plans to actually print out planes using giant 3D printers, if they scale up to that size.
3D printing can also prove critical to the health sector, as they may actually be able to “print” out replicas of human organs using human tissue! This technology can also be used in the construction and industrial engineering business, as models and parts can be printed out using robust materials to a high level of accuracy.Sculptures and art do not need to hand crafted anymore, as a design file just has to be feeded to the 3D printer and it can build the entire sculpture.
There are also many 3D printers catered towards home users and hobbyists, who use them for various purposes. They can be used for rapid prototyping in workshops, where models and replacement parts for domestic purposes can be built without wasting material. People in rural areas can manufacture objects without access to the tools required to use subtractive techniques such as sawing and drilling.
What options are available in India?
CaddCentre offers a great range of 3D printers for both personal and enterprise use. They offer a series of printers in the “ProJet” range that are catered towards professional use to manufacture real parts. Z Corporation also offers its own line of 3D printers in India, using CaddCentre as a distributor in India. They are widely used to make prototypes for a variety of consumer products, including mobile phone covers and toys. One of the most affordable solutions they offer is the ZPrinter 150 , which is targeted towards small businesses.All of the products and their brochure can be downloaded from the following website.
Ikix is a Chennai-based company that produces 3D prints for clients based on their designs. Their services are heavily focused towards the architecture and real estate industry, as they specialize in making models that real estate agents can show to clients which have a realistic and accurate level of detail. Ikix claims that its 3D models allow for easy customer visualization. They also offers something called “Building In A Box” , which means marketing models can be packed as components into a box for portability and be assembled on the spot for client meetings. You can find out more about their services and projects at the following website.