What is 3D Printing?
In general terms, we can define 3D printing as “the process of making a physical
object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many thin
layers of a material in succession”*
However, the term 3D printing has developed over time:
1986: 3D Printing for Prototype Applications
The concept of 3D printing using CAD data as a means of optimising product design and speeding up the initial stages of development is nothing new.
After a number of 3D printing developments in the 1980’s, the first patent for Stereolithography (SLA) apparatus was issued by Charles (Chuck) Hull of 3D Systems Corporation in 1986. Hull also developed the programming file format STL, or Standard Tesselation Language. The following few years saw Rapid Prototyping (RP) technology take significant steps forward with Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) being recognised by The University of Texas at Austin’s Mechanical Engineering Department as the “process by which objects could be created from powder using the mechanism of atomic diffusion”. Further championed by Carl Deckard, a patent for SLS was issued by 1989.
Whatever the 3D printing process, the benefits of Rapid Prototyping (RP) in order to generate multiple design iterations before investing in full production tooling have been appreciated for decades. Companies around the world are now using prototyping to facilitate innovation, reduce the design cycle and increase the speed to market of their new products.
Industrial Applications: Basic Vs. High End 3D Printing
The type of 3D printing technology chosen for a project is determined by its intended purpose, or final application.
Process suitability can change along the product development stages depending on functional requirements – i.e. does the model simply need to look like the end product, or should it be manufactured to withstand the same environmental conditions that a production part would be exposed to?
Therefore, industrial 3D printing can be split into two distinct areas – lower end modelling used simply for concepts and prototypes, and higher end 3D printing geared towards functional, precision engineered parts for low volume production.
The structure of the 3D printing market reflects this distinct difference, with low price 3D inkjet printers rendering the technology accessible for a wider audience at the budget end. In 2009, the BfB RapMan became the first commercially available 3D printer, shortly followed by Makerbot Industries. Since 2009, further entry level machines have been launched, servicing the demand for very basic models.
At the other end of the spectrum, specialist companies like Paragon focus on producing parts for manufacturers, designers and tier 1 suppliers at the higher end of the market.
As a result of significant improvements in printing accuracy, build speed and the progress made with material properties, 3D printed parts can now be used in more accurate functional tests, and even for low volume production. At this point, the simple 3D printing concept becomes Additive Manufacturing (AM)
3D Printing Materials and Processes
The majority of materials used in industrial 3D printing are polymers. However, recent developments for certain applications have seen metals, alloys and ceramics being utilized in melting or sintering processes. Four of the most prominent 3D printing processes are:
Having revolutionized the industry, SLA is considered the leading 3D printing process. According to 3D data, epoxy resin reacts with a laser beam and hardens to form extremely accurate solid parts layer by layer. Paragon can make parts in four different materials with different properties – Watershed, Somos 9420, ProtoGen 18920 and NeXt LV.
Working with powdered materials, a laser beam fuses powder particles together to reflect 3D data supplied. Paragon machines can produce parts in white Nylon 12 PA650 or PA615-GS (Glass Filled).
Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
Where metal prototypes are required, DMLS is the most prominent additive manufacturing process and is suitable for producing parts in various metals, including stainless steel and aluminum.
In this process, parts are formed through the extrusion of thermoplastic material. Many entry-level machines today still rely on FDM, which originally gained a patent in the early 1990’s.
Why work with Paragon?
Where we supply models of any complexity for use at all stages of the development process, our specialism lies in producing high end functional models. With traditional model making expertise at our core, Paragon adds value through its unparalleled execution of model finishing and other downstream processes.
In contrast to alternative 3D printing processes, Paragon’s SLA and SLS Additive Manufacturing services offer enhanced accuracy through tighter tolerances, enabling a more reliable final product. Our advanced materials are not only capable of withstanding rigorous testing, but in many cases are now being used in low volume production runs. Offering a larger build envelope than desktop 3D printers, we are able to supply solutions for a much broader range of applications.
If you want to know more about Paragon’s 3D print capabilities, you can get in touch through our Contact page, or request a quotation here.