3D printers are a specific type of industrial machine and are the primary tool used for the additive manufacturing process. 3D printers use data from CAD drawings and 3D scanners to create solid 3-dimensional objects out of some material.
How it works
First, a data cloud file is created by either scanning an existing object with a 3D scanner or by creating an original object in a CAD program. From here, 3D printing software horizontally slices the virtual object file into hundreds or even thousands of individual layers. The file for this deconstructed object is then uploaded to a 3D printer for production.
The 3D printer reads each layer in the file and then creates the object with sequential additions of material until the object is completed. While all 3D printers actualize their digital objects through an additive process, many different methods exist for the execution of the material additions.
Past, present and future
The first 3D printers were developed in the early 80s and used ultraviolet lights to solidify thin layers of acrylic-based photopolymer held in vats. Stereolithography, as the process is still known, proved to only be the starting point. Modern 3D printers now use laser melting and laser sintering to create objects out of metal alloys, thermoplastics, ceramic powders and others. 3D printing technology has advanced considerably, leading to incredible growth especially in the last few years.
As companies discover new applications for 3D printing, and widespread knowledge about the industry is becoming mainstream, the printers themselves are evolving in order to keep up. From the medical, manufacturing and automotive industries down to the at-home hobbyist, many have a serious stake in the evolution of 3D printers. The implications for supply-chain management and bioengineering alone are seemingly boundless. As such, the one certainty is that the evolution of the technology behind this industrial machine is sure to be dynamic.