The basic technology of 3D printing drastically changed the way that objects were constructed, moving beyond large-scale machinery and molds and allowing the production of complex materials as and when required. Since then, 3D technology has evolved greatly and continues to transform, greatly increasing the applications and use of 3D printing. In essence, 3D printing or additive manufacturing involves the addition of material in layers to create a three-dimensional object based on computer-aided design (CAD).

The global 3D printing market size is vast and growing at a rapid pace due to its mass customization potential, with the adoption of 3D printing technology by the energy and fashion industries growing at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 25-35 percent. Meanwhile, the adoption of 3D printing technology by construction, aerospace, and defense is growing at a CAGR of 15-25 percent. In the coming 5-10 years, enterprise 3D printing is expected to be realized, and industrial-scale manufacturing from 3D printing by 2025.

5 Top 3D Printing Technologies And Techniques

Earlier forms of 3D printing produced mainly prototypes, due to which 3D printing also became known as rapid prototyping, however, now 3D printing is also used in producing working, fully functional objects, manufacturing direct parts and also casting models. There are several 3D printing technologies and techniques.

  1. Fused Deposition Modeling Or Fused Filament Fabrication

Fused deposition modeling (FDM) also known as fused filament fabrication (FFF) is a type of material extrusion printing in which a thermoplastic material is melted and extruded from a nozzle, tracing the desired pattern. As the raw material is deposited on the platform by the 3D printer, it solidifies and the final product is created. The accuracy of FDM 3D printing is dependent on the nozzle size, the material used and the distance that the nozzle can travel across the 3 axes. FDM is the most widely used 3D printing technology and is also the most inexpensive, with a wide choice of raw materials and low turnaround time. The major drawback is that FDM is not suitable for printing products that require high levels of accuracy.

  1. Stereolithography

Stereolithography or SLA is a form of vat polymerization or vat photopolymerization 3D printing technology in which the final product is made by an ultraviolet laser beam that selectively cures polymer resin in a layer by layer manner. The raw materials used are liquid photosensitive thermoset polymers. SLA is the first technology invented for 3D printing and is still widely used since it is the most cost-effective, has high accuracy, gives smooth surfaces, and can display intricate details. However, SLA products are typically brittle due to which they are not suitable for 3D printing functional parts.

  1. Selective Laser Sintering

Selective Laser Sintering or SLS is a powder bed fusion type of 3D printing technology in which a laser is used to selectively sinter or connect polymer powder particles in the desired pattern in a layered manner. The raw materials used include plastics, ceramics, and metals in granular form. Although SLS is the most expensive 3D printing technology, it can be used for making prototypes and functioning products with intricate designs, great accuracy, and strong and consistent mechanical capabilities. The major drawback is that the final product tends to have porous surfaces, but that can be counteracted by adding coatings.

  1. Material Jetting

Material Jetting or MJ is a straightforward mode of 3D printing technology that functions similar to typical inkjet printers. A printhead is used to release drops of photosensitive material across the printing platform, which then solidifies as it is exposed to ultraviolet light, building the design in layers. Typical raw materials used are thermoset photopolymers in liquid form. With MJ, 3D printing becomes faster and the final products have smooth surfaces, high dimensional accuracy and can be made from multiple materials in various colors, but have poor mechanical properties making them more suitable for non-functional prototypes.

  1. Binder Jetting

Binder Jetting is a 3D printing technology in which drops of liquid bonding material are placed on the printing platform on top of a power bed, creating solid material in those areas. The process repeats with a new layer of powder added and drops of liquid bonding material until the final product is produced after which all unbounded powder is removed. Raw materials used include sand, metal powder, and sand casting. Products made from binder jetting are functional, low cost and can be made in large volumes, but the mechanical properties are not as strong and there are limited options for materials

The technologies and techniques used for 3D printing have greatly evolved over the years and are likely to further develop along with advancements in the field and changes in capabilities. The current technologies are capable of creating innumerable products out of a variety of materials for both prototype and functioning models. While the cost of 3D printing has reduced over the years, as the technologies become more commonplace, 3D printing will likely become more affordable and common.

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