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3D Printing

3D Printing Resources


What is 3D printing?

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is the process of making a physical object out of a three-dimensional digital model.  There are multiple different types of 3D printing technology, but most machines use liquid plastic or resin to build up the object, one thin layer at a time, upon a build platform. The technology was invented for rapid prototyping in the 1980's and required large industrial machines, but affordable desktop printers have finally become available to businesses, educators, and hobbyists.  

What are practical uses for 3D Printing?

Here are some examples of practice and use in an educational environment:

  • Architecture - printing their 3D models to further enhance their understanding of structures
  • Fine Arts - creating 3D objects from their digital designs; incorporating 3D prints into their other media; designing and 3D printing jewelry, fabric, sculptures, etc.
  • Visual Communication Design - creating prototypes of product designs and packaging
  • 3D Animation - creating 3D printed objects from their designs either to create a stop motion film or a 3D character reference
  • Engineering - creating 3D prototypes of their designs in order to fully understand their engineering design principles and to experience the challenges that are encountered along the way
  • Advertising / Marketing / Business / Entrepreneurs - having a 3D prototype of the item that they are selling and to show their clients
  • Nursing / Medicine - creating 3D replicas of anatomy or creating personalized prosthetics
  • Archeology / Paleontology - creating 3D replicas of fragile relics for study (ex. creating replicas of fossils in order to study their movement, etc.)
  • Forensics - incorporating 3D printing into crime scene investigation (ex. creating 3D replicas of evidence, such as footprints, or skeletal remains and facial reconstruction)
  • Chemistry / Physics / Biology - creating accurate 3D visual aids such as DNA or chemical reactions
  • Any discipline can see the benefit of using the 3D printer to add to the learning experience

Types of 3D printing technology

Fused Filament Fabrication - FFF (also known as Fused Deposition Modeling - FDM): In this method, a lightweight plastic filament is fed through the nozzle, heated up to its melting point and then extruded onto a build plate surface, hardening upon impact. This process continues depositing the melted filament layer by layer until a 3-dimensional object is formed. FDM printers are especially good for low-cost rapid prototyping.

Stereolithography - SLA: This type of printer forms each layer by using a highly precise laser to cure liquid resin into solid plastic.  The building surface is repeatedly lowered into the vat of liquid as the laser selectively solidifies the material. SLA printed parts are generally smoother, stronger, and more precise than those printed with other techniques.  

Selective Laser Sintering - SLS: This method is similar in concept to SLA, except it uses the laser to melt and fuse particles of nylon powder to form the solid plastic part, instead of liquid resin.  An advantage of SLS printers is that parts do not need to be printed with vertical support structure, as the surrounding powder provides support instead.