Printers are a Girl’s Best Friend

Additive manufacturing these days is more of a buzzword than anything else.  Yes, everyone has heard of the 3-D printer, but to what extent does the general populace understand its complexities?  In today’s post, we’re going to outline one of the different types of 3-D printers available and under development, as well as the possible applications of additive manufacturing and how these machines came to be.

 

A chart of the numerous different kinds of additive manufacturing

Especially in recent years, types of 3-D printers have exploded, so we’ll just go through the most major type today.

 

The beginning of it all: plastic.  The first 3-D printers printed plastic because of its ready availability and relatively low melting point.  Printers didn’t need special tips or super heat-resilient bases, they could print layer upon layer of plastic with technology that almost anyone could assemble.  As plastic 3-D printers have advanced, their speed and accuracy have increased, augmenting the practicality of these machines.  There are two main types of plastic used in this type of printing: ABS and PLA.  ABS is better for outdoor applications, it is a sturdier plastic which requires a higher melting point.  PLA is suited for indoor projects which won’t be exposed to the elements, it is easier to work with, having a lower melting point, so is much preferred in many communities.  It all sounds so easy to talk about it now, but how did these machines actually begin?

 

In the 1980s, a man named Chuck Hull was fooling around with stereopolymers, liquid materials which turn to solid when exposed to UV light.  After a long troubleshooting process, Hull had his process, and patented stereolithography, the basis for modern 3-D printers.  He soon started his own company focusing on this new technology, and it is still going strong, innovating new types of printing at every turn.

Chuck Hull, inventor of 3-D printing

So, why are 3-D printers important to society?  Well, the reason they were invented was to find a new method of manufacturing, one that could produce parts more efficiently or more soundly.  Truly, 3-D printing has maintained this goal through the present day, as different printings can change microstructures for different types of strength, or even produce pieces that never would have been possible via traditional manufacturing methods.

Items like this would be very difficult, if not impossible, to produce via traditional manufacturing methods

3-D printers are also associated with the democratization of manufacturing.  The beauty of 3-D printing is that almost all of it is open source, especially with plastic.  Brands like Prusa sell kits online for small amounts of money, containing all the parts one needs to build their own printer.  I can vouch for the efficacy of these kits, I built my own printer last summer.  In addition, websites like Thingiverse share thousands if not millions of free patterns, both for fun and practical use, so that anyone can make things in their own home, using a technology that was, at one time, unimaginable.

 

Until next week,

 

Natalie

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