We know CNC milling to be a subtractive CNC manufacturing process. Now, it’s time for an additive one.
Due to its greater accessibility and ease of use, 3D printers are often more commonplace than CNC mills worldwide – units such as the Monoprice Maker Select Plus can go for as little as $330 on Amazon(and that’s a high-quality, decently big printer as well). From parts to projects everywhere, 3D printing has set a clear standard of quality for precision in the manufacturing industry.
Just like CNC milling, in order to 3D print something, you first need to create a 3D CAD model of it. Afterward, you must convert that design into a format supported by your 3D printer – the most popular one is the .stl file format. That file then needs to be opened up in a 3D printing suite(often specific to the manufacturer of that printer), where the model can be resized, moved around on the 3D printing plate, and finally, set up for printing. From there, all that needs to be done is for you to hit “Print” and watch the magic happen.
The material used to actually print the model(the “ink”, if you will), is known as filament, and it’s a long string-like material that can be made out of plastics, metals, or some composites – it all depends on what you want the model to be made out of. This filament is then inserted into the printer, where it is melted and poured out of an incredibly small nozzle. The nozzle itself is moved around the printer by a set of motors on rails. Because the nozzle itself cannot rotate to print the object, it must begin from the bottom and slowly work its way up, printing layer after layer after layer. Any sort of overhang in the model must have 3D printed supports under it, lest the entire model begin to lose its shape(it is made of melted material, after all). Once the printing is complete and the material has sufficiently cooled down, the print is ready to pick up and use!
3D printers and CNC mills share the same potential growth in manufacturing and personal projects, although with one major difference – while CNC mills are most often used with wood, 3D printing is most often used with a plastic filament. While wood composite filaments exist, they are not nearly as common. Regardless, the fact of the matter is that rapid prototyping and manufacturing in all industries has been made far cheaper and easier through the advent of this revolutionary technology. This market is expected to grow in billions of dollars in the future, and as time goes on, 3D printing technology will become far cheaper and even more readily available to the masses – it is inevitable that a maker revolution is soon to follow.
Author at STEMTalksNC
Monoprice Maker Select Plus: