3D printing is a very fascinating technology in my opinion. This technology allows for the manufacturing of almost anything from a wide variety of materials. It is different from other forms of manufacturing, as it can use designs that are geometrically independent. The layer by layer process allows for the production of almost any shape! I plan on highlighting some of the materials offered through this process, but first I'm going to cover what 3D printing is.
3D printing is the layer by layer assembly of products through the melting or fusion of materials through various methods. These methods include curing liquid resins into solids, laser melting, fused deposition modeling, and ink jet methods. For the process to work, a 3D design will have to be created on the computer by an artist or 3D engineer. This design will then be sent to a 3D printer, or the machine that will actually manufacture the product. Whichever 3D printer being used will take the 3D design, and the computer within the printer will acknowledge the dimensions, shapes, and thicknesses of each model. The manufacturing process will then take place when the 'print button' is pressed. Once started, the process is entirely automated. The machine will begin creating a physical model based off of the design, one layer at a time. These layers are typically very small; most machines offer layers that range from 20-30 microns. The diameter of a human hair is around 20 microns. A 6 inch tall 3D print would likely consist of over 800 miniature layers! This layer by layer process can create very intricate and organic shapes that other manufacturing methods cannot; it is also relatively affordable. The variety of materials to print in is pretty significant as well. Let me elaborate.
When looking into 3D printing, the variety of material choices is very large. In fact, over 60 materials exist. These materials can cover a wide array of purposes, and each is different. Common materials include polycarbonates and ABS plastics. ABS is probably one of the most popular, and there are around 10 different colors to choose from. Precious metals even have a say in 3D printing; materials such as gold, sterling silver, fine silver, and platinum exist through 3D printing. Industrial plastics like PA 2200 exist to withstand various chemicals and high temperatures. There is also a large market for 3D printing metals out there; these metals include: aluminum, cobalt chrome, titanium, Inconel, two forms of stainless steel, bio chrome, bronze, maraging steel, and nickel alloy. Materials exist for very specific purposes, let me elaborate. Some materials within the Objet tango family are very flexible, and are used to prototype various products such as the rubber within cell phones. Vero materials can be used for 'snap on' parts. There are a variety of wax materials that hold exceptional detail for wax casting. Other resins and materials are used to hold great detail for character models and similar applications. Some materials are fully translucent. Materials such as zp150 hold a full array of colors for character models.
Regardless of your prototyping needs, there is a material that exists for it! If you're looking to have a part made for the internals of a jet engine, 3D printing can save the day. If you need a precise character model, 3D printing will save the day. Whether you're making jewelry, or you're making a product, 3D printing will have a material that can get the job done when it finally comes down to prototyping!