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How to Use 3D Printers

November 6, 2018 at 9:03 AM / by TJ Russell

Most people are surprised to learn that 3D printing – by all means a revolutionary, disruptive technology – is actually almost 40 years old.

It’s due to advances in related technologies that the price of 3D printing has fallen, and its capabilities have increased to the point where it is now commercially viable for the majority of businesses in industry, and even private individuals.

No longer a curiosity of scholars, 3D printing has become the go-to technology for any manufacturing process that requires mass customization or deeply complex personalization. Now, it has applications in any industry that requires fast prototyping and efficient, waste-free manufacturing.

Auto manufacturers, surgeons, dentists, architects, students, engineers, and entrepreneurs are all investing in 3D printing technologies to democratize the means of production in a way never before possible.

However, there is a learning curve to using 3D printing technology, and the field is one of the most dynamic in the tech industry.

An Introduction to 3D Printer Features and Technology

3D printers are more like sewing machines than inkjet printers. They interpret a 3D design file by intersecting a very large number of thin layers into the design and carefully reproducing the desired shape.

3D printers do this by various means. Some 3D printers use a laser to selectively melt metal powder according to the desired shape and adding the thin slices to one another successively. Other devices lay down plastic sheets on the print platform to produce the desired item.

In all instances, the technology works by adding successively layers of material in synchronized order. This is the reason some professionals refer to 3D printing technology as additive printing – the finished product is made by adding layers of materials atop one another and sealing them.

Predictably, there are many types of printing materials on the market. Each one carries specific advantages and drawbacks. Some are more useful for prototyping potential products, while others are made for rigid engineering applications. Finding the right filament is key to successful additive printing.

A Guide to Filament Types

There are many different types of 3D printing filament types. These span the range from lightweight, easy-to-use plastic all the way to full-color sandstone filaments that can produce lifelike models and sculptures.

Using the right filament for your application is key to success in any additive printing initiative:

  • ABS: This strong plastic is inexpensive and easy to use. It’s a great choice for toys, sports equipment, handles, electronic mounts, and similar accessories.
  • PLA: This odorless material is eco-friendly. Printing using PLA requires less energy than many other filament types. It’s ideal for food containers, candy wrappers, biodegradable medical implants, and similar products.
  • PVA: This filament type is a great paper adhesive, packaging film, and sports equipment material. A non-toxic and environmentally friendly material, it dissolves in water at room temperature.
  • PET: This plastic material is a common choice for electronics cases and food packaging. It is tough, flexible, and FDA-approved for food containers.
  • PETT: This colorless, recyclable material is strong and flexible. It’s another good choice for food containers – particularly for liquids.
  • Nylon: Nylon comes in many varieties, including a tough fiber-reinforced nylon that offers strength and durability similar to aluminum. This material can make machine parts, mechanical components, and load-bearing containers of many kinds.
  • Wooden Filament: Filaments with recycled wood fibers ingrained can create products with the look, feel, and scent of handcrafted wood. This is a choice material for toys, figurines, and home goods of many kinds.
  • Sandstone: If plastic doesn’t suit your needs, you can use sandstone to create highly detailed models and landscapes using additive printing technology.
  • Metal: Metal is obviously highly durable. Print process owners often use it to create jewelry, statues, and other hardware artifacts.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. It is an introduction to some of the most popular filament types in the industry. Engineers release new filament types every year.

Bed Plate Leveling

In order to reliably mass-produce a 3D-printed object, the printer’s bed plate must be level. Bed plate leveling is the process of calibrating the printer’s bed surface to the X-Y plane of its printing surface.

There are multiple ways to do this. The specific bed plate leveling solution for your 3D printer depends on the manufacturer’s design philosophy. Bed plate leveling an Ultimaker S5 requires a different approach than leveling another manufacturer’s printer.

This is one of the reasons why we provide training and comprehensive support to our customers. By personalizing support, we ensure that our customers’ success is an important part of our own.

Choose ImageNet for 3D Printer Procurement

Finding the right printing hardware, filaments, and design software can be a significant challenge even for experienced IT professionals.

The additive printing market continues to advance, making expert consulting an important factor in the purchase decision. Trust ImageNet with your acquisition to ensure your printing process delivers value well into the future.

Are you ready to become part of today’s additive printing revolution? Talk to an ImageNet 3D printing expert today!

Topics: 3D Printing

Written by TJ Russell

TJ Russell is the Director of 3D Printing at ImageNet Consulting. He began his career at ImageNet working in Marketing and transitioned over to leasing to understand more of the business. After a couple years of ImageNet researching 3D Printing, the company decided they wanted to dedicate more focus to the industry. Once the opportunity opened, the company felt TJ's background in design and high interest in the technology would be a nice fit to jump starting the 3D Printing division.

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