3D printers began to be used for industrial needs, especially for creating parts for rapid prototypes. Using this technology, it was possible to create unique parts within a more complex model without the need to create special molds that also required the development of machines, a process that delayed the deployment of new products.
The first 3D printers were large and expensive to use. Over time, thanks to the improvement in technology, the cost of 3D printing went down until it was possible to have them at home. Regarding the quality of the materials, these have improved and now we have a large number of filaments to easily create all kinds of models. This has allowed small businesses to create their own 3D objects for various uses.
What types of 3D printers can we find?
There are different types of 3D printers, but the one we are going to focus on are FSM printers, which use thermoplastics to operate and are most common in homes. This type of printer uses PLA and ABS plastic filaments, although wood, cork and even coffee filaments have also been used.
SLA printers, on the other hand, are based on the use of resins, their finishes are much better and allow better prototyping. Today SLAs are widely used so that they do not require color and especially by miniatures and model building enthusiasts, who usually paint the models they use themselves.
SLA printers are often stopped by the harmful gases that the resin generates when heated. They are therefore much less secure and are not recommended for inexperienced hands.
Composition and operation of an FDM printer
The process of printing on a 3D printer is as follows:
- The thermoplastic filament is loaded into the printer, which is fed into the extruder. In which it is heated until it melts. The operation of the extruder is very similar to that of a hot glue gun.
- The extruder is connected to a three-dimensional system which allows it to move along three different axes. From left to right, top to bottom, near and far.
- The printer prints the object in layers, using the correct filament for each. Many times it will be necessary to change it in the middle of printing.
- The printing process is slow, as you have to wait for the material used to solidify, so some 3D printers usually have a small fan connected to the extruder.
- In order to strengthen the physical model, some printers tend to overload certain parts of the object.
The printer will print layer by layer until the object is complete, a process which depending on the printer we are using can take hours.
How to get the models for our printer?
The first thing you will need is a CAD or computer aided design program that allows you to model the object in 3D, you can choose which one you like the most and which one you feel most comfortable with. easy. We have cases like Blender, the famous AutoCAD used by architects and even Rhinoceros which is very popular with jewelry designers, although you can also go for the simple but straightforward TinkerCAD from Autodesk. All are valid so that you can create your objects and if you are interested you can share them on the network with other users so that they can print them
Another method used is 3D scanners, these are cameras that use infrared or light-time CCDs to measure the distance of each object from the camera, in order to have a volumetric model of the object. It is a technique widely used in medicine to have 3D images, but because it is not based on polygons, but on voxels, it requires the transformation of the model in to a polygonal or triangular model in order to be able to be manipulated. later in a CAD program.
File formats for 3D printers
Let’s use the method we use, the most used file formats in 3D printing are:
- 3D manufacturing format (3MF): It is a format based on XML, and the standard of the 3MF consortium. It stores inside not only the shape data, but also the color and material used.
- Additive Manufacturing File (AMF): another XML format with similar characteristics to 3MF, as it also stores shape, material and color as information.
- Object file format (OBJ): It is used as an image format compatible between various 3D editors, but it is not
These formats are not enough to be able to print an object on a 3D printer, but you have to use the Slicer programs, which we will talk about next.
What is slicing for 3D printing?
3D printers print the objects in layers, printing them on top of each other in a process where each time the actual model gains more height. Unlike other methods of printing objects, we are not talking about casting an object in a mold or carving on a stone.
This makes it necessary to use software which takes the original model and converts it into a file format where it is defined how are each of the layers that make up the object to be printed. We call the Slicing process and this type of application Slicers.
Not only do they turn the model into a series of layers that the 3D printer can use, but in many cases they allow us to adjust the height of each layer, the infill density, and even create supports for that. the 3D structure is supported if necessary in the middle of the printing. This type of software is therefore also part of the creative process to be able to obtain the best possible part.
How do I communicate my 3D printer with the PC?
Well, just like other printers, you can use USB connection, use SD card to store files to print and even over Wi-Fi, so its installation is the same as any other device.
But as with conventional printers, 3D printers require software to control 3D printing, we recommend Pronterface, which allows us to control different aspects of it in a direct and comfortable way. In addition to being compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux.
With this, you should already be able to print your models on your 3D printer.