Many different technologies, under the same heading, are the essence of 3D printing. In its early days 3D printing was also know as additive manufacturing or rapid prototyping. It's purpose is to quickly prototype three-dimensional objects to make sure they work in the real world or simply as decorations. It is mainly used in industry, but some of the technologies are slowly making their way to the normal consumer. Several years back 3D printers were used mainly by the industry, but then the fusion deposition modeling patent expired and following a project to create a self-replicating machine the first desktop 3D printer came to be. As more manufacturers appeared, the prices started to drop and 3D printers were now available to the consumers.
So how does 3D printing actually work? There are several steps and several different pieces of hardware that are involved into it. One and the most important one of them, is the computer, because it is where you are going to be creating your design file. Simply put, the design file is a mathematical description of a 3D object or a blueprint. The computer understands it as a universal file type, then relies the information to the 3D printing machine.
There are several different file formats for 3D printing of them are. Two of them are "stl" and "obj". In the end the process for 3D printing is always the same. The machine takes the file and slices it up into thin layers building your object starting from the bottom and going slowly upwards. Depending on the material you use the process can be different. Let us have a brief look at the known 3D printing technologies.
The first example is the vat polymerization technique. There are three ways in which it is processed - with laser (Stereolitography), with projector (Digital Light Processing) and led and oxygen (Continuous Digital Light Processing). The material used in all three of them is plastic.
Then we have the material extrusion technique. With it we observe Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) which is where a plastic filament or metal wire is unwound from a coil and supplies material to produce a part. FDM is also the most common technology for desktop 3D printing.
Material jetting is another technique. One of the processes is also called Material jetting (MJ) and UV light is used in it. The material used is plastic. Two other processes are Nano Particle Jetting (NPJ) and Drop on Demand (DOD) . In the NPJ process the material used is metal, while in the DOD one it's wax.
Binder jetting is the fourth technique we are going to turn our attention to. The process carries the same name or in short BJ. As the name gives out in this process the materials used to create the object are being bound by binding agent. The materials used in this method are gypsum or sand with metal.
And the last technique is the power bed fusion. One of the processes is Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) where the material which is plastic is fused with agent and energy. Another two processes are the SLS (Selective Laser Sithering) and the DMLS/SLM (Direct Metal Laser Sithering/Selective Laser Melting). Both of them use lasers, however the SLS uses plastic as a material while the DMLS/SLM uses metal. The last process is EBM (electronic beam melting) and it uses electron beam to melt the material which is metal. But no matter which technique you use, the object is still build from the bottom up and you can create some amazing stuff, that may not be possible to make using another manufacturing technique.
Of course not all of those techniques are available to the consumers, because they cost alot, so some of them are not as widespread as others. Even if the customer cannot buy such printer for him self he could always rely on the service provided by 3D printing companies. With the 3D printing techniques you can create some amazing stuff, that may not be possible to make using other manufacturing technique. And I assure you, that you will not regret if you decide to have something 3D printed, be it for decoration or other uses.