The world of 3D printing is a rapidly growing, expanding, and changing web of technology, software, and materials.
3D printing is the innovative technology process that makes three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. Today, 3D printers allow you to create anything you can imagine while offering amazing results.
In the ’80s 3D printing had its start under the name ‘rapid prototyping’ because the purpose of the technology was to prototype faster and cheaper.

How 3D printing works

3D printing is also called additive manufacturing because unlike traditional manufacturing that subtracts material, 3D printing adds it layer by layer. In traditional manufacturing methods, machines or workers cut out and hollow pieces of metal or plastic.

By laying down successive layers of material until the object is finished, you can see each layer if you cut a horizontal cross-section of the object. This process allows you to produce complex and functional shapes using fewer materials than traditional manufacturing methods.

The 3D printing process begins by creating a 3D model on your computer. Digital design software such as ANSYS 3D Design allows users to create 3D models from the ground up. Users can also create a digital copy of an object by generating data with a 3D scanner.

There are several different options when it comes to 3D modeling software, from thousands of dollars for a program to open-source software. The software should fit the needs of your project and industry. This has resulted in the rise of niche software programs that cater to aerospace and transportation, to furniture, fashion, and more.

Once your design is ready to print and uploaded to your machine, it’s ready to print.

Machines like Ultimaker and BigRep work by laying down successive thin layers of plastic material or filaments. The filament is fed into the printer, melted, and then extruded on the build plate to create the object layer by layer.

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Benefits of 3D printing

The possibilities of 3D printing are endless and can stretch as far as you can think.

Products can essentially be “built to order” thanks to computer-aided manufacturing. Products can be personalized to meet the needs of each customer while maintaining the low price allowed by mass production. Customization can add value by allowing users to choose different colors or features, including specific dimensions, adding text, or changing the color to fit their preferences.

With 3D printing, manufacturers do not need to create a mold and purchase specific tooling that is needed for traditional manufacturing techniques, all of which require initial costs to begin production. Instead, only a file is needed to be created. This can even be created directly for customer information.

The price of production is the same for one 3D printed part as it is to produce 10,000 of the same 3D printed part. This means it is efficient to produce 1,000 personalized parts unlike in the traditional manufacturing process.

With the size of 3D printers rapidly expanding, it’s becoming easier and easier to print the large parts needed to create bigger objects or even big objects themselves.

True to their name, BigRep makes machines for big prints. With printers having a build envelope of up to one cubic meter, their machines are made for countless application possibilities.

BigRep, in collaboration with All3DP, worked to create the world’s largest fidget spinner. Known for their large-scale, industrial printers, the massive machines were put to the test to print the fidget spinner. Printing specialist Michel David even created 3D printed bearings.

“I think this project shows that it’s so easy and fast to produce something that’s just an idea in your head. It was an idea to 3D print the biggest fidget spinner, it took no time to model it, slice it, and just print. The step from an idea to an actual product is just two or three days,” said Johann Ebermann, BigRep 3D Printing Specialist. ​

Applications of 3D printing

3D printers help in the rapid prototyping phase of product development. Why? It’s relatively cheap and quick.

Companies like Nike used to spend thousands of dollars and wait weeks before they could have a prototype in their hands. After they received it, it was back to the drawing board and having to wait weeks for the update to arrive.

Now, for a fraction of both the cost and time, companies can create changes to the 3D file instantly and the prototype reprinted the same day speeding up the manufacturing process.

3D printing is also used for rapid manufacturing- short-run and small-batch custom manufacturing. This way of manufacturing the printed objects are not prototypes, but tools, molds, or end-use products.