Today, 3D printers are available from just over 100 euros. Other models cost high four-digit amounts. Here you can find out how 3D printers work, what processes there are and what is possible with them.
- Industrial 3D printing processes are unsuitable for home use
- Home 3D printers use the FDM process
- You can choose between inexpensive kits and high-priced commercial 3D printers for the home
3D printers for the home
While in the home you will mainly come across 3D printers that work according to the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) process, the industry relies on powder-based processes. The main difference: the domestic FDM process uses molten plastic, the industrial processes work with powder, which is either heated or formed into a solid structure with a special adhesive.
Which 3D printing processes does the industry use?
Industrial 3D printing processes work with a starting material that is in powder form. These can be polymers, but also metals. The 3DP process is often used for polymers. A thin layer of polymer in powder form is applied to a plate using a roller. The 3D printer then adds a binding agent. This hardens the polymer and creates a solid layer of plastic. When 3D printers build objects in layers on top of each other, one speaks of an additive printing process: The computer breaks down the 3D model into many very thin layers and builds them on top of one another.
Melting electrons for 3D printing metal
Electron beam melting (EBM) works in the same way. The advantage of this method is the freedom in the choice of material. For example, the industry uses the EBM process to print metal structures. Instead of polymer powder, the printer applies a thin layer of metal powder to a plate. An electron beam heats the powder so that it melts and the substance bonds together to form a solid layer. Check abbreviationfinder for acronym of 3D.
Other 3D printing methods
In addition to these two processes, there are a number of other methods in which solid structures are formed from a powder or liquid starting material with the help of a 3D printer. They are precise and create structures that can withstand even high loads. They are also used in the construction of aircraft. However, these methods are not suitable for the private sector.
Home 3D Printers: How Do They Work?
3D printing in the home has only really established itself through affordable printers that work according to the FDM process. This is also an additive printing process. Instead of a powder that is heated or glued into solid layers, FDM printers use molten plastic.
The plastic is in the form of a filament, i.e. a thin thread. The printer heats the filament so that it liquefies. Then he presses the melted filament through a fine nozzle. This moves along three axes with the help of computer-controlled motors and injects the plastic onto a heated glass plate. The plastic cools and hardens in the air. Layer by layer, the 3D printer builds up a solid structure.
Thanks to FDM, 3D printers are affordable today
The FDM process has one big advantage over the industrial methods for 3D printing: It is cheap. You can even build an FDM printer yourself. Hobbyists all over the world prove that this is possible with the necessary prior knowledge. These 3D printers are already available today for well under 200 euros. The only disadvantage: Most of them are kits that you have to put together first. These 3D printers are known as RepRap printers. RepRaps are open source. This means that in addition to the components they consist of, the software is also freely available. In order for complex structures to be created by adding layers of molten plastic, the nozzle must be able to move precisely.
Commercial 3D printers for the home
If you don’t want to assemble your 3D printer yourself, there are a variety of commercial models to choose from. Most of these are pre-assembled and programmed. Here you do not have to deal with the construction or the time-consuming calibration of a RepRap printer.
Newcomers to 3D printing can use a commercial 3D printer, for example from the manufacturer Makerbot, to create precise prints without prior knowledge. Even a RepRap can produce accurate results. However, it requires significantly more calibration for this.
Possible uses and costs of a 3D printer
The FDM process is mature, but it has limits. These are mainly in the resilience and resolution of the prints. With a 3D printer, you can easily print sculptures or objects that do not have high requirements for accuracy of fit and stability. This is also possible with a RepRap.
Many users of a 3D printer use it for model construction. Here the parts have to fit exactly and often withstand loads. This is basically possible with the FDM process, but you should use a high-quality commercial printer such as the Makerbot Replicator. Instead of a few hundred euros for a RepRap, however, you then pay between 2,000 and 3,000 euros for your printer.