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What is 3D Printing?

In general terms, we can define 3D printing as “the process of making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many thin layers of a material in succession”*

3D Printing is creating new opportunities in a wide range of sectors, enabling easier prototyping processes, renewed approaches of the production line (remote production, cheaper small batch production, reduced tooling and machine costs, use of online 3D printing services…), and designs that were impossible before. We’ve been writing about 3D printing and the advantages it brings to various industries on this blog,


Industrial Applications: Basic Vs. High End 3D Printing

The type of 3D printing technology chosen for a project is determined by its intended purpose, or final application.

Process suitability can change along the product development stages depending on functional requirements – i.e. does the model simply need to look like the end product, or should it be manufactured to withstand the same environmental conditions that a production part would be exposed to?

Therefore, industrial 3D printing can be split into two distinct areas – lower end modelling used simply for concepts and prototypes, and higher end 3D printing geared towards functional, precision engineered parts for low volume production.

The structure of the 3D printing market reflects this distinct difference, with low price 3D inkjet printers rendering the technology accessible for a wider audience at the budget end. In 2009, the BfB RapMan became the first commercially available 3D printer, shortly followed by Makerbot Industries. Since 2009, further entry level machines have been launched, servicing the demand for very basic models.

At the other end of the spectrum, specialist companies like Paragon focus on producing parts for manufacturers, designers and tier 1 suppliers at the higher end of the market.

As a result of significant improvements in printing accuracy, build speed and the progress made with material properties, 3D printed parts can now be used in more accurate functional tests, and even for low volume production. At this point, the simple 3D printing concept becomes Additive Manufacturing (AM)
3D Printing Materials and Processes

The majority of materials used in industrial 3D printing are polymers. However, recent developments for certain applications have seen metals, alloys and ceramics being utilized in melting or sintering processes. Four of the most prominent 3D printing processes are:

Stereolithography (SLA)

Having revolutionized the industry, SLA is considered the leading 3D printing process. According to 3D data, epoxy resin reacts with a laser beam and hardens to form extremely accurate solid parts layer by layer. Paragon can make parts in four different materials with different properties – Watershed, Somos 9420, NeXt LV and Taurus.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

Working with powdered materials, a laser beam fuses powder particles together to reflect 3D data supplied. Paragon machines can produce parts in white Nylon 12 PA650 or PA615-GS (Glass Filled).
Digital Light Synthesis™

A new 3D printing technology using light and oxygen to create robust parts with mechanical properties and surface finishes that reflect injection moulded plastics.
Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)

Where metal prototypes are required, DMLS is the most prominent additive manufacturing process and is suitable for producing parts in various metals, including stainless steel and aluminum.
Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM)

In this process, parts are formed through the extrusion of thermoplastic material. Many entry-level machines today still rely on FDM, which originally gained a patent in the early 1990’s.

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The 3D Printing process allows the creation of designs that were impossible using traditional manufacturing methods. Geometries can now be designed to enable cooling, heating, filtration, porting, venting, nested cores, spiral vents, volute shapes and integration of multiple components as well as to provide savings in material and weight for prototyping and short run production.



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