What Is 3D Printing?

3d Printing is a way to manufacture items in three dimensions by depositing layer after layer of a material to build up the final object.  Traditional manufacturing wastes materials by cutting out pieces and then fusing them.  3d Printing, or additive manufacturing adds on instead.  3D Printing has been used for decades but the price of machines has only recently dropped.  Now individuals can buy a 3D Printing machine to experiment with creating objects.

3D Printers are driven by 3d models, so the final product is very accurate.  Good 3d Printers can create objects that have millimeter scale accuracy.

Applications of 3D Printing

Engineers and product designers are creating new products every day with 3D printing.  3D Printers allow users to create customized versions of new products and rapidly design new products.  Some companies use 3D Printers as a design tool to prototype new products.  Other companies are using 3d printers to create the final product they sell.  The manufacturing industry expects 3d printing to revolutionize manufacturing.

Almost anything can be created through 3d printing, but the most noticeable items being 3d printed are jewelry, machine parts, replacement dental items, furniture, sculpture, and art.

In the future, businesses plan to use 3d printers to print houses, meat, body parts, medical drugs, firearms, and even airplanes and satellites.

Outsourcing 3d Printing or Buying a Printer

To create a 3d printed object once you have a design done in a 3d or CAD program, you have two options. You can contract a specialized company to print your design, or you can buy a 3d printer to create the design.

Personal 3d printers can cost between $500 to $200,000.  The more expensive printers can print more detailed models, or use exotic materials.  Cheaper 3d printers usually only print plastics, of limited quality.  Hobbyists use them to create new products and sell them online or share them with the 3d printing community.  Small businesses typically purchase mid-level 3d printers, in the $5,000 – $15,000 range.  Universities, large businesses, and manufacturing companies buy the high end machines, which can cost anywhere from $15,000 to one million dollars.

3d printing services allow hobbyists or beginners to use the high-end equipment a larger firm owns to print their designs.  This allows them to experiment with 3d printing without investing large amounts of money.  Some 3d printing services let you then sell your designs through their online stores.  Even some larger companies contract their 3d printing, as it can be less expensive to outsource the 3d printing rather than hire people just to maintain 3d printers and invest in expensive 3d printing machinery.

In either case, do research to find the best 3d printer for what you intend to do, and what fits your requirements.  Do you need to do many rapid iterations of a design, then you might want to own your own machine to print in low cost plastics before moving on.  If your final product is in metal, you can outsource metal 3d printing once you’ve created the perfect prototype.