Sharon Murrel, an advisor to 3D and a former computer science researcher at Bell Labs, submitted the following blog post to the 3DMonstr website (www.3dmonstr.com):
What would Michelangelo say? 3D printing is a process of making three dimensional, solid objects from a digital model. The software takes that model and cuts it up into very thin layers. The print head, known as an extruder, is driven by the software. The extruder lays down one of those very thin layers of material onto the base — the bed — of the 3D printer, and then lays down another thin layer on top of that one, and then another, and another, another, and so on until the object is complete. This process is called additive because it adds layers to create the form. This is like creating a coil pot when working with clay.
This process differs from traditional manufacturing that starts with more material than necessary, and then removes the unwanted material by drilling or cutting or some other technique. This process is called subtractive and is like taking a big chunk of marble, and then removing what parts you don’t want in order to make a sculpture.
When you think of subtractive manufacturing, think of Michelangelo when asked how he was going to create such a fine figure as King David out of an enormous chunk of marble. His answer: “That’s easy. All I have to do is chip away everything that is not David.” With 3-D printing, no chipping away is necessary; we start with David.
Let’s get into technical! 3DMonstr gantry printers use fused filament fabrication (also known as fused deposition modeling) to melt and extrude thermoplastics, such as PLA, ABS, and Nylon to create the thin layers, which are automatically fused to create the model. A rigid metal frame and smooth accurate linear motion along the axes enables these printers to create precise models.
What’s next? 3D printing technology is becoming important in industrial design, architecture and construction, automotive, aerospace and civil engineering, the world of fashion and the arts, and the dental and medical industries. It is proving useful at all stages of the product life cycle, from rapid prototyping through manufacturing. It is already an enabling technology in the medical sciences, where surgeons can now inexpensively model an individual patient’s hip or jaw prior to delicate surgeries.