Tech Tuesday: 3D Printing

800px-Wearable_3D_Printed_ShoesWearable 3D Printed Shoes (Image from Wikimedia via Creative Commons License)

The new buzzword in the world of technology is 3D printing, which may seem mysterious and somewhat intimidating, simply because if you are not an avid reader of tech news, you may not know how 3D printing works and why it is important. So here’s the 101 on what you need to know about this incredibly innovative technology.

What is 3D Printing?
3D printing is a new technology that is capable of producing very complex objects. While many 3D-printed objects look as though they have been painstakingly sculpted, 3D printing actually works by adding many thin layers of material on top of one another to form the finished product, a process called additive manufacturing. In the same way that your inkjet printer receives information from your computer, the 3D printing apparatus works together with an associated computer program. 3D printers can produce essentially any shape with high fidelity.

How Does 3D Printing Work?
First you create a design on Computer-Aided Drafting Software (CAD). This software models 3D objects for the printer and can even receive a virtual copy of an object from a 3D scanner, which scans the dimensions of a real-life object, such as a patient’s tooth or a famous musician’s guitar. The CAD software then slices the virtual model into very thin cross-sections that are transmitted to the printer. The printer uses the dimensions of each of these tiny layers to build the 3D object through additive manufacturing. The objects, however, do not appear to be layered because each layer is so small; the average height of each of these layers is just 100 micrometers, about the diameter of a piece of human hair.

There are many different types of 3D printers that use this additive manufacturing process. Each method of 3D printing has its strengths and weakness, and is better suited for using a particular set of materials.

Next Page: What are 3D-printed Objects Made of?

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  • A. Jayatilleke March 8, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    This is a great overview of 3D printing. I’d love to learn more about the tensile strength of 3D printed objects. Will my 3D printed shoes hold up to my daily walks? 😉

  • Trish March 6, 2015 at 11:11 am

    Interesting article. 3D printing holds exciting possibilities!

  • Jeden Dvatre February 27, 2015 at 8:14 pm

    So nice to finally have a clear explanation of 3D printing!

  • Lynne Shepsman February 27, 2015 at 6:39 am

    Ah, now I understand.

  • Victoria February 26, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Thank you for the excellent explanation!

  • Fran Meyer February 26, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Very interesting article and very relevant.

  • Kelly February 25, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Interesting article- would love to see more science based pieces.

  • Andrew Herman February 25, 2015 at 12:15 am

    Excellent article. Informative and written well. Cudos to the author, keep up the good work!

  • Karen Wasserman February 24, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    Very well written and concise explanation of 3 D printing. I think I need one to manufacture new kitchen appliances.

  • Andy Johnson February 24, 2015 at 11:13 am

    Really interesting. I’d never heard of 3-D printing before and now I’m trying to decide what I would create if I had one.

  • Roz Warren February 24, 2015 at 9:45 am

    Terrific piece! I’m definitely looking forward to printing myself one of those coffee tables.