A Brief 3D Printing Overview

What is 3D Printing?

3D Printing, also referred to as Additive Manufacturing, is a collection of manufacturing technologies in which material is selectively added to a part layer-by-layer. While there are a multitude of materials and processes available, many of them utilize heat to fuse each layer of material together to form the final part.

Advantages

Save Time and Material

One of the key advantages offered by 3D printing is the ability to build partially-hollow parts with complex internal structures. Because material is added in layers, interior areas can be filled with cross-hatching or other geometrical structures for strength. Surface layers are then deposited by bridging the gaps to form a smooth outer wall. The end result of these operations is a reduction in material, weight, and time to produce the part.

Impossible Geometries

In many subtractive and casting processes, internal features and trapped volumes are difficult or impossible to make. Since additive technologies typically have dissolvable support structures (or unfused material for powder-based processes), internal cavities and concentric solid bodies are easily created. This is particularly useful for investment casting for parts such as impellers. 3D printers can be utilized to make positives for molds which can be burned or melted out and replaced with metal.

Low Barrier to Entry

It is often the case that manufacturing parts requires expensive tooling or equipment to produce. While tooling can be a worthwhile investment for large quantities of parts, it can be prohibitively expensive for short-run products. With 3D printing, all that is needed is a 3D CAD model to make anywhere from one to thousands of parts. This is great for testing a design, creating legacy parts, or evaluating if there is a market for a product. Best of all, parts can be printed quickly and on-demand reducing the quantity needed in-stock.

Functional Features

Threaded Parts

Depending on your application, there are multiple options available for threaded parts. Multi-Jet Fusion has the ability to directly print threading that is durable and functional for larger diameter parts. For finer threading, 3D-printed parts can be tapped or have embedded inserts added. Tapping is a good, quick option for fasteners that won’t need to be removed frequently and that won’t experience significant applied forces. Heat-set or thread-locking inserts are excellent options for removable fasteners or those that require added strength.

Living Hinges and Snap-Fits

As with injection-molded or machined plastics, it is possible to create snap-fit and living hinge features for 3D printing. These are great options for reducing material and fastener usage as well as decreasing part complexity. Common materials choices include PA12 Nylon in Multi Jet Fusion, Nylon 12 or Nylon 6 in FDM, and Digital ABS or Polypropylene-like materials in Polyjet.

Tooling or Mold Design

For situations where 3D printing isn’t the most economical option or when the materials are not suited to the application, 3D printed tooling and molds can be used to help manufacture parts. For short-run parts or prototyping, it is possible to create mold tooling for blow molding and injection molding applications at a fraction of the cost of machined molds. 3D printed parts can also be utilized as structures for thermoforming or composite layup processes. In addition to these applications, 3D printing is also a fantastic way to create custom tooling guides, inspection or assembly stands, or modifications for existing equipment.

Conclusion

The applications of 3D printing discussed above are only a small fraction of the potential uses for this technology. At 3D Print Texas, we are always looking for new ways to help our clients implement 3D printed solutions to save money and improve their workflow. Contact us today with your ideas or questions, and we’ll work with you to take advantage of this revolutionary technology.

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