Of course you know about 3D printers, and you can even buy a 3d printer on Amazon now, but just how do 3D printers work?
3D printers work by stacking layers of material to create the 3D form. It’s helpful to think of the process as similar to the way that a dot matrix printer works, by building line after line, however in the case of a 3D printer, those lines are deposits of a material, layer upon layer.
There are two main ways that 3D printers create those layers – either by depositing layer after layer of a polymer that is created by heating and melting a filament from a spool (think the plastic thread you made those lanyards with in summer camp), or by building layer upon layer from a vat of polymer liquid. These processes are referred to either as fused deposition modeling (FDM), or stereolithography (SLA), respectively. The 3D printer on Amazon is an FDM printer:
Which uses this spool (also available on Amazon):
Of course, much like a dot matrix printer, a 3D printer needs to be programmed by 3D printer software. Your typical consumer 3D printer (now there’s something we hadn’t quite anticipated saying for 2014!) comes with its own software. Essentially, for the lay person, it’s useful to think of 3D printing software as the fusion of CAD software with a printer driver. You design your model in the software, hit “print”, and the software tells your 3D printer how to deposit or carve the layers.
…there are some really useful applications for professional level 3D printers. For example, saving this baby’s life:
And once you have your own 3D printer, ThingiVerse is a great place for 3D printer models and patterns.
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