Not just since yesterday 3D printers are a great way of printing on the market, which is constantly evolving. Here it is possible to print whole objects using software or scanned originals. This process has proven to be extremely useful both in private use and in numerous professions. In this article I have collected some information which informs as exactly as possible about the 3D printer as well as the different models and manufacturers.
Table of contents:
- What is a 3D printer?
- How does a 3D printer work?
- Where can I use the 3D printer?
- Which criteria are important for a good 3D printer?
- Various manufacturers & models
- What is the process of 3D printing?
- Conclusion on 3D printers and their possibilities
What is a 3D printer?
It sounds a little unimaginable. But in fact it is possible to print workpieces using 3D printers nowadays. Because in this device there are different substances which serve as materials (for home use mostly PLA, ABS or other plastics) for printing and which are assembled or cast by the device into an object on command.
So with the 3D printer the most different works are possible:
- Birthday presents
- Decorative items
- Toys for children
- Components or spare parts
- Extensions and modifications for existing hardware like Playstation Mods from the 3D printer
It should be noted, however, that the possibilities vary depending on the quality and composition of the respective printer. Accordingly, there are, for example, particularly complex machines that are even capable of producing complex articles such as model houses. There are hardly any upper limits. Since the technology is currently only in its early stages, affordable 3D printers at good prices will gain more and more quality.
Now it is clear what a 3D printer can do. But how does it do that? What used to be a vision in science fiction films now seems at least partly possible: In medicine, research is being done into 3D printers that can already print organs or teeth, for example. For home use, entire objects can be printed conveniently. But how does it work?
How does a 3D printer work?
First of all, different materials are required from which workpieces can be assembled. There are several possible materials: liquid plastic is usually always used. What can be added is powder made of metal, ceramic or sand. A very widespread plastic in 3D printing and very popular is PLA Filament (polylactides, synthetic polymers mostly based on maize or maize starch).
Inside the printer there is a working platform on which the molten materials are extruded. The extruder serves as a cartridge: the heated and liquefied materials are injected layer by layer onto the working platform, where they harden as they cool down. This is how the workpiece is created. This process is also called additive manufacturing. However, there are other possible processes, some of which have been implemented and some of which are in research.
Where can I use the 3D printer?
These materials are the components of the classic 3D printers that are available today. But there are also numerous experiments and models that offer even more perspectives in the choice of materials. This results in a wide variety of applications in home use, industry, restaurants, bakeries & confectioneries as well as creative professions. These are just a few examples that will be briefly explained below. It should already be mentioned, however, that this technology is still in its very early stages and that many more areas of application will emerge in the near future.
Home use: Everything simpler & more creative!
The 3D printer is particularly fascinating for home use. Here, it offers prospects of simplicity at places where in the past or even today there were or still are numerous strains. If a vase is about to break, the 3D printer can provide a direct remedy. Even with objects such as missing screws, angles or other attachments that require immediate replacement, the device offers the prospect of quick solutions. New storage space can also be created by simply printing out storage boxes for small parts or similar items.
In addition to this simplicity, creativity is a great advantage: If it's boring at home or you don't have a skilful hand for your own works of art, then you can switch to directing: On the computer, you work out the desired design and have it implemented by the 3D printer!
Industry: When the most complex shapes become possible!
Currently, the industry is in particular demand for 3D printers that can work with metal or glass. There are some parts that are necessary, but cannot be produced with most conventional methods. In this case, the 3D printer is an attractive solution that, for example, uses integrated cooling channels in the workpieces that are difficult to implement.
In the kitchen: eating as you wish as a delight for the eye!
The proverbial saying is, "The eye always eats with you." This means that, ideally, the dishes should not only taste good, but also look appealing. With the 3D printer, the opportunity is now given - of course with food as the materials used - to create ready-made dishes. Here there are already various test runs for pasta and pastries in special machines. However, these are not yet freely available on the market.
Creative professions: faithful replicas & imaginative works!
Whether architect or product designer, all creative professions now have the opportunity to achieve faithful reproductions of existing products or to create new products exactly according to plan. In museums, for example, antique exhibits can be better protected by replacing them with replicas or, in the case of architects, by using floor plans as miniature models. Prototypes and design drafts can be printed relatively quickly and easily in order to get a first impression of the later product.
Which criteria are important for a good 3D printer?
In order to enjoy the benefits of a 3D printer, it is necessary to inform yourself about individual features and purchase criteria. If you set your own priorities, you may even get a good bargain. Among other things, the following aspects are important and should be considered:
- Print layer height
- Printing size of the 3d printer
- Print bed
- Print speed
Print layer height
As experienced above, a 3D printer stacks layer by layer the workpiece together. The print layer height indicates how high these individual layers are. The thinner or finer the print layer height, the less noticeable the workpiece is as it has been assembled. With a layer of 0.2 millimetres, very attractive results are already achieved. But even above that, for example at a print layer height of 0.3 mm, a 3D printer is absolutely convincing.
The extruder is the analog to the cartridge of a common printer. But while standard printers have several cartridges that combine all colors, the 3D printer has different cartridges. This printer has a maximum of two extruders (3D printer with dual extruder), but usually only one extruder and thus offers more limited possibilities. For as much freedom as possible in the choice of material and colour, a device with at least two extruders is recommended. Alternatively, in order to be somewhat more flexible, objects can be printed in multiple colors in several sections and later glued or screwed together.
Printing size of the 3d printer
The printing size is the room in which the printing work is carried out. The sizes are given for the x-axis, y-axis and z-axis. The larger the printing space, the larger the workpieces that can be printed from one piece can be. For the domestic use and the tinkering of small objects are usually about 200 millimeters (20cm) per axis absolutely sufficient.
With regard to the print bed, there are two things to consider:
On the one hand, the type of process - heated or unheated - and on the other hand the material from which the printing bed is made. It is always best to use a heated process with at least 60°C, as this allows the materials to adhere better and process more evenly than the unheated process in the printing bed.
As far as the material of the printing bed is concerned, plates made of glass, for example, are suitable, on which a special spray is ideally applied. This allows the workpieces to attach better on the surface of the print bed during the 3d printing process.
The filament is the filling, i.e. what materials are used in the printer? Plastic (PLA Filament, ABS, and so on) is the material of choice. This is supplied on rolls of up to 1 kilogram each, and printed in layers of 190 to 210 degrees. Also with the colour selection there are hardly any limits, from red over blue to green, white and black and all kinds of colour gradations are to be had starting from approx. 20,- EUR (25,- USD) per kilogram.
But now there are several different plastic types for 3D printers. While some are particularly heat-resistant, others are abrasion-resistant or additionally contain copper or wood for a great wood look of the workpiece.
Also glow in the dark PLA is now available, which as the name suggests glows in the dark. Basically, the choice of filament should always be made in accordance with the capabilities of the printer (print bed, print head and its temperature as well as other aspects) and the desired workpiece.
Good models for beginners start with a print speed of 80 millimeters per second. 80mm/s to 160mm/s are common here. So it can take a few hours to print larger objects. Professional models put a scoop on it of course. However, it is with 3D printers with the criterion speed just like with numerous other electronic devices: Speed by no means compensates for the lack of quality. That's why it's important to put all these criteria in one place and only then make the decision for or against a 3d-printer.
Various manufacturers & models
This section gives you a closer look at the market. Here you will get to know five hip manufacturers as well as some models to get an impression of the possibilities.
This is a Chinese manufacturer, which is very well known in connection with 3D printers. The local models are particularly economical, which means that they deliver very solid performance at fair prices. Especially the model Comgrow Creality 3D Ender 3 is very popular, because it contains many interesting features and is very easy to assemble.
Monoprice itself markets itself as the world's number one printer brand. In any case, the manufacturer is at the forefront for numerous different electronic articles. Here you will find a large assortment, where one thing stands out above all: The design of the printers is ultra-modern and makes itself excellent in every hobby craft room or work room. As far as the performance and quality of the printers are concerned, there are a wide variety of models for the most varied requirements: from the high-priced but impressive Dual Extruder 230 to the smaller Maker Select Plus, which nevertheless has a lot to offer in terms of quality within its price range.
Also coming from China, this manufacturer attracts attention in particular through its good price/performance ratio. So the manufacturer surprised with its model A10, when it made the manufacturer Creality big competition: Same performance for a better price? Everyone has to decide for himself. But in the end it can be said that anyone looking for a 3D printer at a bargain price of around 200 euros (about 200 to 250 usd) should take a look at the offers from Geeetech.
With this brand, working with 3D printers is fun! High-quality models in combination with the corresponding high-quality software produce attractive workpieces here. Of course Anycubic costs more for its quality than Geeetech or Creality 3D. Nevertheless, the manufacturer is one of the most popular on the market, especially as the printers are often delivered pre-assembled depending on the model. I decided to buy the Anycubic I3 Mega myself. A solid device with which I am super satisfied.
To name quality Made in Germany, there is also the brand Membino. Membino GmbH stands for particularly high quality in the field of 3D printers and produces printers with very high reliability and performance. The machines come from a single source and therefore run smoothly and flawlessly.
Of course this is only an excerpt of popular and well-known manufacturers. There are numerous other brands, some of which are not yet as present in the public eye. The reason for this is, for example, their specialisation. There are some manufacturers who specialize in 3D printers for metal:
Desktop Metal, DMG Mori, EOS, SBI, Sisma, Spee 3D...
In particular, this market for metal 3D printers is one with a promising future and about to boom. Numerous other manufacturers offer their very own unique selling points and thus the chance for every person to find exactly the model they need for their own purposes.
What is the process of 3D printing?
In order to gain an insight into how the mere idea of printing results in a finished work-piece, the following section lists two ways in which the production of work-pieces works:
If the respective 3D printer contains a scanner, this is all the more advantageous. So you simply have to put the piece to be copied into the scanner, which then transmits the information to the computer and finally offers the chance to get a faithful image. Whether it is a cup or the missing spoon: with the 3D scanner, 1-to-1 copies are made. But in order that these copies look good, a strong scanner as well as a good software are necessary to transfer the data to the computer. In addition, such 3D printers are extremely expensive and are more likely to be something for the professional sector, for example in the industrial sector.
The software suitable for this is the so-called CAD software. CAD stands for Computer Aided Design (computer-aided design and work planning). Here the possibilities are offered for the production of the most diverse models. For beginners it is recommendable to train first with favorable software, which offers assistance and Tutorials (e.g. Blender or Web-based solutions such as Tinkercad). Afterwards the transition to a professional software, which offers all leeway to creativity and implementation, is quite possible.
Conclusion on 3D printers and their possibilities
3D printers represent a high fun and benefit factor for the individual buyer. The machines enable replicas and designs with mechanisms that were previously unthinkable. It should be mentioned that the first 3D printers were already available at the end of the 1980s. But as so often, technology takes time to evolve. The 3D-printers available today already offer a wealth of possibilities that can be implemented with high quality.
At this point an advantage of the printer is often forgotten: A printer offers the possibility to save even some costs. In the past, if you had to buy additional figures or inventory if they broke down, today it may be possible to produce them yourself at low cost. 3D printing also offers a great and simple option, such as upcycling old Ikea lamps or expanding existing furniture and furnishings by printing and attaching shelves and baskets. An example are additional baskets for the cot of our little ones. So diapers, creams and wet wipes are always ready to hand and have their place.
In combination with the great fun and benefit factor, 3D printers thus represent an attractive opportunity for your own four walls or even your own company.
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