Starting with a concept and combining engineering with design technique, the 3D printers take shapes in recent years and becoming a more affordable technology for widely users.
Used to build from simple to complex shapes, a 3D printer has the potential to transform at least the robotic industry by simplifying the production process of robotic components.
Part of the manufacturing process, a 3D printing process is based on principle of adding layer over layer in small thickness of about 0.1 mm. Layer over layer and using different materials like plastic or metal, the final product is a solid plastic or metal object that mimic in the finest details the 3D object designed with a CAD software.
Back in time, the first time when the 3D printing concept was sketched was in the middle of the 1980 when Chuck Hull invented the technology called stereolithography. Following the same path like personal computers, the 3D printers enter into a process of improvements until our days where the technology is available at an affordable price.
The 3D printing process is also known as additive manufacture and involving a manufacturing process that adding materials in layers resulting a 3D object from solid materials.
Small and big companies began building prototypes followed by the market launch of different types of 3D printing technology. Broadly a 3D printer uses the same principles of a traditional ink printer, the biggest differences between these two printer types is the material used. If an ink printer uses ink to form images based on layers, a 3D printer uses different materials like plastic or metal to build layer over layer the desired object.
Compared with the subtractive process that is based on removing materials by a machine following a pattern, the additive process involves the addition of material based on 3D model. The two manufacturing processes are in reverse and instead of removing materials from a piece of metal or any other material, the 3D printing technology deposit the material in layers.
This type of building objects becomes more popular in recent years and is a technology used in industrial, commercial, medical, spatial or military applications.
The 3D Printing Process
- sketch your idea;
- CAD file preparation;
- transfer the CAD file into the printer via USB or SD memory card;
- choose a specific material;
- 3D printing process;
The 3D printing technology is still under development and in the future it has to offer to consumers or for industry much more than the technology offers at this moment. A high speed, high accuracy, functionality, and colors are areas that need improvements in order to design the most advanced 3D printer.
Increasing the speed of printing process is required since the printing time for a simple robot like MAKI can take days.
Regardless of the material used, all printers are based on methods including transferring the materials in layers on the object surface, spraying the materials, photopolymerisation, applying laser beam to melt a plastic powder, and many other methods.
3D printers are used in manufacturing process for small to large objects and all these processes require different methods of printing. A large size printer was designed in the labs of Swinburne University where large objects can be printed in a printer with sizes of a small room. In addition to generous dimensions, the printer can print 3D objects using materials like steel, chromium, or cobalt.
Perhaps in the robotic field plastic is the most common material used to print different robotic parts. Placing layer over layer, the plastic like PLA, which is a bioplastic material, is used to build 3D objects from thousands of layers.
Stereolithography (SLA) is an additive manufacturing process that uses ultraviolet light applied to a curable resin.
Another interesting manufacturing technology was developed in the labs of MIT and was integrated in revolutionary 3D printers that use plastic composite in an inkjet printer with 24-bit color.
FDM machines are designed to use two cartridges divided for model and support and designed to extrude plastic using a heated nozzle. The nozzles could have a range between .007″ to .012″.
SLS or Selective Laser Sintering uses laser beams to melt the powder in layers. The material used is based on nylons and the final product has a high resistance.
3D Printer Models
Before to use the printer, you have to design the object that you want to print. This project is designed in a computer-aided design (CAD) software and then transferred in the printer memory. The virtual model of the object is divided into thousands of horizontal layers, which for the printer are instructions. The instructions contain data about where the printer will deposit material.
Advantages of 3D Printers
- Decrease the development costs – with less human resources involved in the production process and cheaper materials, using 3D technology to print different objects can only decrease the costs of production;
- Accessibility – consumers could have on desk a 3D printer and used if they want to build robotic parts;
- Variety – depending on the object designed, any user can choose the materials used to build layer by layer the object;
- Innovation – without design and manufacturing limits, users can build new and innovative robots;