3D Printing: Bigger, Faster & Better

3D Food Printer | Flickr – Photo Sharing! Playing Futures: Applied Nomadology Attribution 2.0 Generic / CC BY 2.0   Speed remains a hurdle in 3D printing. Producing a small object can require hours of waiting, a process that tests the patience of any user. While inroads are being made, speed remains the key inconvenience for 3DP. The federal government wants to change that. The US Department of Energy announced that it will invest in research-and-development to improve both the speed and scale of additive manufacturing. Asst. Secy. David Danielson made the announcement at the department’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., a move that signifies the Obama White House’s continued interest in 3DP as the key avenue for US industry. Danielson stated: “Developing innovative manufacturing technologies in America will help ensure that the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow are created here in the United States, putting people to work and building a clean energy economy.” As part of that development, the US Energy Department has forged a partnership with Cincinnati, Inc., a longtime manufacturer of machines and tools. Among its current list of products, Cincinnati produces advanced laser-cutting hardware and metal fabrication. Such expertise factored into the government’s decision to partner with the company. That expertise will be needed as the US Energy Department has set an ambitious goal for the partnership to achieve. The department wants to see the maximum size of printed objects increase tenfold—no small task. Even more challenging is the department’s goal for speed: The partnership is intended to improve 3DP speeds by two hundred times–minimum. And it’s not like 3D printers don’t need the boost: A typical, name-brand example prints at a rate of a tenth of a cubic inch per minute. Using that basis, an object that’s roughly 6 in.3 in size requires an hour of printing. What does this all mean for consumers? It means the world’s largest financier – the US government – will be pouring in a fortune to accelerate the capabilities of 3D printers. That increases the likelihood of a technological break, one that manufacturers of home 3D printers will use to advance their own products. Put simply: Bigger. Faster....

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Beginner’s Guide to 3D Printing

If you’ve been tuning into the latest news, odds are that you’ve heard about 3D printing. Paul Markillie of The Economist declared it the “third industrial revolution.” Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN referred to it as “game-changing technology.” Even Pres. Barack Obama celebrated 3D printing, christening it as the “next revolution in manufacturing” during his State of the Union address. There’s no denying it: 3D printing is having a major impact–one that consumers are increasingly able to enjoy. Here’s Linkyo Insights’ brief, simple explanation to the ins and outs of 3D printing. —– 3D printing is an “additive” process, meaning that it creates a product by adding layers of material until those layers make up a solid whole. This contrasts with a subtractive process, notably milling, that creates a product by cutting layers of material from a larger mass. An additive process is seen as the more efficient and less wasteful of the two–crucial in an era of greater energy conservation. The process of 3D printing can be broken down into four steps: Model Slice Fixup Print The model stage has the user 3D modeling the object he wants to print. The user does this with a computer-aided design (CAD) program. He or she can develop the model by scratch or by downloading a pre-developed blueprint from a website, such as Thingiverse. This model is then converted into an STL (stereolithography) file. With the slice stage, a program called a slicer remodels the STL file by dividing the object into layers (“slices”). Remember that a printer works by producing layer upon layer until those layers become a complete object. The higher the resolution, the smaller the layer and the more precise the overall object. After the STL model has been sliced, a fixup program checks the model and corrects it of any errors. Once that’s done, the print phase begins. —– Next up–the printer. The printer itself is made up of four key parts: Filament Extruder Hot-End Print Bed The filament is to a 3D printer what ink and toner are to 2D printers. Filament is commonly made of a plastic thread wrapped around a spool, but it can also be made up of other materials. The extruder is the component that delivers (“extrudes”) the filament to the hot-end, the nozzle section. (The extruder and hot-end are often combined.) The filament is then produced in layers on the print bed. There are four types of filament: metal, ceramic, composite, and plastic. Plastic, the most common type, can be subdivided into five categories: Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) Polylactic Acid (PLA) Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) Polycarbonate (PC) High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) ABS is the most common type of plastic filament. PLA is a runner-up, being both biodegradable and available in soft or hard form. PVA, a dissolvable substance found in lubricants and adhesives, has a small, but growing, niche. PC, used in media discs and bullet-resistant glass, is still in the developmental stage. HDPE, a type of moisture-resistant cheap plastic found in bottles and pipes, has little use because of its proneness to warping and shrinkage. —– 3D printers measure resolution by tenths to hundredths of a millimeter (mm). The more minute the resolution, the longer the printing process. A small object set at 0.3 mm resolution may take 15 min., while the same object may take 3 hrs. to print when set at a 0.1 mm resolution. Of course, it takes a capable printer to put out such a precise resolution–in other words, it costs more money. The good news is that the cost of 3D printers has come down considerably, ranging...

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