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A small business’s guide to 3D printing


Chances are, you’ve heard of 3D printing. If you haven’t, where have you been? If you feel out of the loop, don’t fear, here, we’ll give you the lowdown on everything you need to know.

What is 3D printing?

Also referred to as additive manufacturing, or desktop fabrication, 3D printing is a process in which a real, physical object is created based on a 3D design blueprint. 3D printing is becoming an increasingly popular technology following its emergence in the 1990s.

What does it entail?

Whereas traditional manufacturing processes rely on methods of cutting and drilling to carve out objects, an additive process like 3D printing works by fusing together layers of powdered material to build an object.

The task is performed by a 3D printer, which - under the control of a computer - can complete this process with unmatched precision and superior accuracy. Some of the components and raw materials detailed below will give you a rough idea.

  • Laser source - a laser is directed from the laser source to solidify and fuse together the molecules of a certain raw material.
  • Elevator - a component of a 3D printer that raises or lowers the platform to lay the layers of the particular object that is being manufactured.
  • Materials - more advanced 3D printers are capable of using one or more types of raw materials for creating objects. The materials they can use include plastic, resin and polymers.

How 3D printers work

Fused-filament 3D printers create three-dimensional objects by passing a thin, plastic filament through a heated extruder head and melting it. Depending on the type of 3D printer, the extruder head moves in three dimensions while the printer lays down the filament, layer by layer.

After this, the filament cools into a solid object, which may contain hollow interior voids to save the filament. Some fused-filament printers work by moving the print head/extruder along three axes: side-to-side, up-and-down and front-to-back.

The majority of 3D printers use PLA filament, which is a type of biodegradable plastic, or a slightly stronger plastic called ABS. Some of the newer filaments use nylon, wood or metal-filled plastic. There are a number of factors that determine what kinds of filament a printer can use, including the nozzle temperature of the extruder, the build-platform material and whether the build platform is heated.

Usually, the more the extruder and the platform temperatures can be adjusted, the more choice of filament materials you can select from.

How 3D printer software works

The model of a 3D object is loaded on to the computer, and an image appears onscreen in a three-axis grid. The X-axis represents the side-to-side movement of the print-extruder head, the Y-axis represents front-to-back motion, while the Z-axis represents the object’s height.

The printer software calculates the height of the component and analyses how the extruder and the build platform must move to lay down the filament layers. Referred to as slicing, this process sees the printed object’s height sliced into individual layers for printing. Then, the software converts the slicing data into a language known as G-code, which is effectively the set of instructions needed by the printer to carry out the task.

Businesses should expect to invest some time and effort, along with some filament, before being able to successfully create the simplest models available. But there are a number of websites that offer a selection of pre-designed 3D models that could help you get started.

What applications use 3D printing?

As the accessibility of 3D printing continues to increase, a growing number of businesses can benefit from it. Some of the industries that use 3D printing include:

  • Aerospace - used to manufacture complex parts for aircraft and space applications.
  • Architecture - utilises 3D printing for structure verification, design review, reverse-structure engineering and expedited scaled modelling.
  • Automotive - uses the technology for design verification and the development of new engines.
  • Defence - used to manufacture light-weight parts for surveillance equipment.
  • Education - used in numerous disciplines for research purposes.
  • Entertainment - used for all types of prototypes, including toys, action figures, games, musical equipment and other things.
  • Healthcare - a number of working organs have been created and a lot of research is being carried out in this area. It may not be too long when organs for transplant could be easily printed.
  • Manufacturing - uses 3D printing for various purposes, including creating models of products before they are manufactured on a mass scale.

Get in touch

King of Servers is here to help with any queries you may have regarding 3D printers. Speak to a member of the team today by giving us a call, or click the chat icon on this page.