As technology advancements are leading to breakthroughs in additive manufacturing, the reality of 3D printing is slowly being revealed. We sat down with our 3D printing specialist, Albert, to find out more about the possibilities and benefits of the growing technique.
What is 3D printing and how does it work?
3D printing describes the process in which, under computer control, material is joined together to create a three dimensional object. 3D printing comes in the class of additive manufacturing. The method we currently use is FFF (fused filament fabrication) more commonly referred to as FDM (fused deposition modelling). This is the process of additively building up an object or part one layer at a time. A spool of filament is loaded onto the machine and is fed through a heated nozzle which melts the filament. The hot end is then moved around the build area at precise locations where it cools down and solidifies. Once a layer is complete, the build gantry raises and repeats this process until the desired item/part is complete.
What are the benefits of this manufacturing method?
There are a broad range of 3D printing technologies, each having their own benefits and limitations. Parts can be produced in almost any geometry, a key strength of the 3D printing technique, however there are considerations that need to be adhered to. 3D printing is also cost efficient as it does not rely on expensive tooling, allowing the advantage of rapid verification and development of prototypes and low volume production parts.
To what extent does Applus+ utilise 3D printing technology?
At the moment, we’re "just dipping our toes in the water" in regards to 3D printing and testing exactly how we can use it to maximise potential. Custom items have been designed and created for the Materials Centre including a macro ruler, replication sample clips, microscope light attachment, and a replication microscope buggy. It has also been used in the modification of equipment with minor design flaws. Instead of modifying the stock kit, we’ve designed and 3D printed a custom setup which is not only lighter, but also cheaper and faster to produce than traditional machining methods.
How do you see additive manufacturing impacting the future of the industry?
There’s a lot of opportunity for different forms of 3D printing to replace traditional subtractive manufacturing. As the technology advances, metal 3D printing and SLS (selective laser sintering) will become more mainstream and accessible for both businesses and home hobbyists.
Do you have any suggestions for people looking to get into printing?
Don't! If you have hair, and you like it… don't, 3D printing causes instant hair loss!
Only joking! To be honest, it’s all about research; what is the end goal you want to achieve? Have a look at different machines and see if they are open source or proprietary. Does that machine have a large online community presence who can help if you get stuck or aren't sure? To see what 3D printing can do, and to spark the imagination, take a look at Thingiverse for ideas!