3D Printing 101 – All you need to know about Desktop 3D Printers

3D Printers have begun to take over today’s world. You may know an institute, office, or maybe even an individual who may own one. There are many types of 3D printers, but this article will focus on one of the most common variations in Desktop 3D printers. Most Desktop 3D Printers use a method called Fused Deposition. Unlike a CNC mill, which starts with a block and then chisels away at it until the model remains, this 3D printer puts out layer by layer of plastic on top of each other, until the object is complete. Here’s the process of how it works…

Clear filament, before it's been melted and extruded

Clear filament, before it’s been melted and extruded (PLA)

The plastic used in 3D printing starts in the form of filament. This is essentially a long string of plastic, usually found wound up in spools. This is the fuel used in the printing process. For a plastic to be usable for printing, it needs to be a thermoplastic, meaning that it can become soft and moldable when heated, and hardens when cooled. There are two very common types of plastic for this job. The first is called PLA. Standing for Polylactic Acid, this filament is created from renewable resources, such as corn starch. When melted, it produces a sweet smell, like cooking oil. PLA is a bit more brittle, and has a lower melting point than the other plastic, ABS. Also known as Acrylonitrile Butadiene, is a less-natural plastic. It is a bit stronger, and has a higher melting point than PLA. Another big difference between the two is the smell. ABS plastic, when heated, produces a smell that resembles melting plastic. This is a major turn-off for some people, while others don’t mind it at all.

The next step of 3D printing is the extruder. The plastic filament is fed into the extruder, which is heated to over two-hundred degrees Celsius. At these temperatures, these plastics begin to lose their hardness and become a softer, moldable substance. A motor pushes plastic through a tiny nozzle, which layers it onto the print bed.


G-Code that would be run b a 3D Printer

G-Code that would be run by a 3D Printer

3D Printers read a special type of programming language, called G-code. It essentially turns the build area into a 3D coordinate system, and the code itself tells the extruder or bed (Different parts move, depending on the printer) where to go and extrude the heated filament. The operator, of course, doesn’t need to manually type in every coordinate for the G-Code- There are countless programs that will “Slice” (Cut a 3D object into individual layers and generate G-Code based on that) and give you the program that the printer will run.

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