There are a variety of 3D printing materials, including thermoplastics, metals (including powders), resins and ceramics.
Who Invented 3D Printing?
The earliest 3D printing manufacturing equipment was developed by Hideo Kodama of the Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute, when he invented two additive methods for fabricating 3D models.
When was 3D Printing Invented?
Building on Ralf Baker's work in the 1920s for making decorative articles (patent US423647A), Hideo Kodama's early work in laser cured resin rapid prototyping was completed in 1981. His invention was expanded upon over the next three decades, with the introduction of stereolithography in 1984. Chuck Hull of 3D Systems invented the first 3D printer in 1987, which used the stereolithography process. This was followed by developments such as selective laser sintering and selective laser melting, among others. Other expensive 3D printing systems were developed in the 1990s-2000s, although the cost of these dropped dramatically when the patents expired in 2009, opening up the technology for more users.
There are three broad types of 3D printing; sintering, melting, and stereolithography.
- Sintering is a technology where the material is heated, but not to the point of melting, to create high resolution items. Metal powder is used for direct metal laser sintering while thermoplastic powders are used for selective laser sintering.
- Melting methods of 3D printing include powder bed fusion, electron beam melting and direct energy deposition, these use lasers, electric arcs or electron beams to print objects by melting the materials together.
- Stereolithography utilises photopolymerization to create parts. This technology uses the correct light source to interact with the material in a selective manner to cure and solidify a cross section of the object in thin layers.
Types of 3D printing
3D printing has been categorised into seven groups by ISO/ASTM 52900 additive manufacturing - general principles - terminology. All forms of 3D printing fall into one of the following types:
Binder jetting deposits a thin layer of powered material, for example metal, polymer sand or ceramic, onto the build platform, after which drops of adhesive are deposited by a print head to bind the particles together. This builds the part layer by layer and once this is complete post processing may be necessary to finish the build. As examples of post processing, metal parts may be thermally sintered or infiltrated with a low melting point metal such as bronze, while full-colour polymer or ceramic parts may be saturated with cyanoacrylate adhesive.
Binder jetting can be used for a variety of applications including 3D metal printing, full colour prototypes and large scale ceramic moulds.
Direct energy depositioning uses focussed thermal energy such as an electric arc, laser or electron beam to fuse wire or powder feedstock as it is deposited. The process is traversed horizontally to build a layer, and layers are stacked vertically to create a part.
This process can be used with a variety of materials, including metals, ceramics and polymers.
Material extrusion or fused deposition modelling (FDM) uses a spool of filament which is fed to an extrusion head with a heated nozzle. The extrusion head heats, softens and lays down the heated material at set locations, where it cools to create a layer of material, the build platform then moves down ready for the next layer.
This process is cost-effective and has short lead times but also has a low dimensional accuracy and often requires post processing to create a smooth finish. This process also tends to create anisotropic parts, meaning that they are weaker in one direction and therefore unsuitable for critical applications.
Material jetting works in a similar manner to inkjet printing except, rather than laying down ink on a page, this process deposits layers of liquid material from one or more print heads. The layers are then cured before the process begins again for the next layer. Material jetting requires the use of support structures but these can be made from a water-soluble material that can be washed away once the build is complete.
A precise process, material jetting is one of the most expensive 3D printing methods, and the parts tend to be brittle and will degrade over time. However, this process allows for the creation of full-colour parts in a variety of materials.
Powder bed fusion (PBF) is a process in which thermal energy (such as a laser or electron beam) selectively fuses areas of a powder bed to form layer, and layers are built upon each other to create a part. One thing to note is that PBF covers both sintering and melting processes. The basic method of operation of all powder bed systems is the same: a recoating blade or roller deposits a thin layer of the powder onto the build platform, the powder bed surface is then scanned with a heat source which selectively heats the particles to bind them together. Once a layer or cross-section has been scanned by the heat source, the platform moves down to allow the process to begin again on the next layer. The final result is a volume containing one or more fused parts surrounded by unaffected powder. When the build is complete, the bed is fully raised to allow the parts to be removed from the unaffected powder and any required post processing to begin.
Selective laser sintering (SLS) is often used for manufacture of polymer parts and is good for prototypes or functional parts due to the properties produced, while the lack of support structures (the powder bed acts as a support) allows for the creation of pieces with complex geometries. The parts produced may have a grainy surface and inner porosity, meaning there is often a need for post processing.
Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), selective laser melting (SLM) and electron beam powder bed fusion (EBPBF) are similar to SLS, except these processes create parts from metal, using a laser to bond powder particles together layer-by-layer. While SLM fully melts the metal particles, DMLS only heats them to the point of fusion whereby they join on a molecular level. Both SLM and DMLS require support structures due to the high heat inputs required by the process. These support structures are then removed in post processing ether manually or via CNC machining. Finally, the parts may be thermally treated to remove residual stresses.
Both DMLS and SLM produce parts with excellent physical properties - often stronger than the conventional metal itself, and good surface finishes. They can be used with metal superalloys and sometimes ceramics which are difficult to process by other means. However, these processes can be expensive and the size of the produced parts is limited by the volume of the 3D printing system used.
Sheet lamination can be split into two different technologies, laminated object manufacturing (LOM) and ultrasonic additive manufacturing (UAM). LOM uses alternate layers of material and adhesive to create items with visual and aesthetic appeal, while UAM joins thin sheets of metal via ultrasonic welding. UAM is a low temperature, low energy process that can be used with aluminium, stainless steel and titanium.
VAT photopolymerization can be broken down into two techniques; stereolithography (SLA) and digital light processing (DLP). These processes both create parts layer-by-layer through the use of a light to selectively cure liquid resin in a vat. SLA uses a single point laser or UV source for the curing process, while DLP flashes a single image of each full layer onto the surface of the vat. Parts need to be cleaned of excess resin after printing and then exposed to a light source to improve the strength of the pieces. Any support structures will also need to be removed and additional post-processing can be used to create a higher quality finish.
Ideal for parts with a high level of dimensional accuracy, these processes can create intricate details with a smooth finish, making them perfect for prototype production. However, as the parts are more brittle than fused deposition modelling (FDM) they are less suited to functional prototypes. Also, these parts are not suitable for outdoor use as the colour and mechanical properties may degrade when exposed to UV light from the sun. The required support structures can also leave blemishes that need post processing to remove.