It was in 1981 when the first patent for additive manufacturing (3D printing) was given to Hideo Kodama, who invented a device that used UV light to harden photoreactive polymers. In 1984, Chuck Hull (the father of 3D printing), filed a patent that is known today as stereolitography – the world’s most commonly used 3D printing process. Chuck Hull also came up with the STL file format which made additive manufacturing what it is today. There are a lot of 3D printing processes and 3D printers today such desktop, professional, networked and industrial using FDM (fused deposition modelling), DLP (digital light processing) and various other printing techniques. Since desktop printers are the most basic of the bunch, let’s begin with them.
What Is a Desktop 3D Printer?
Desktop (home) 3D printers are made to be used by an individual in a household environment or small company. Most 3D desktop printers use SLA (stereolitography) but there are some that make use of FDM or DLP and they are available pre-assembled or as kits. Most come pre-assembled and the ones you need to assemble yourself, can take anywhere from 10 to 40 hours.
What to Consider
The majority of home 3D printers use either PLA or ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic, but you’ll also find some using materials such as XT and PLA/ PHA. PLA on it’s own is a great all-round flexible and bio-degradable material. The properties of this material make it ideal for large parts. ABS is an extremely strong and durable plastic which is best used for small items as it can warp when printing large parts.
XT is a co-polyester which is ideal for printing engineering and functional parts since it is extremely tough and strong. PLA/PHA is a combination of PHA and PLA with the former making the material less brittle, less prone to warping and it also adds some adhesion properties. Materials such as PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol), which is a food-safe plastic, are used with items that will be in contact with food. But the objects need to be applied with food-grade epoxy prior to using them.
Open Spool vs Cartridge Filament
Cartridge filaments are encased and they comes with a microchip that reads the level of the filament left in the cartridge. These are more expensive than open spool filaments but easier to use and provide the best quality filament for your home 3D printer. Open spool filaments don’t have any sort of protection from the elements and require you to feed the filament into the print head. They are cheaper and finding quality filaments requires some research. The filament is also prone to kinking and getting damaged which can affect the quality of the print.
3D Design vs 3D Printer Software
To create an object you want to print, you have to rely on a 3D design software, such as Autodesk or Solidworks. CAD software doesn’t prepare the file for print though, for this you need a 3D printer software that can make the file printer-readable. A 3D printer software is a program that helps you position the object, set the resolution and add support materials. These software programs are also known as slicing engines.
To make the most out of 3d desktop printers you’ll need to understand how print resolution works. For example, if you are printing a large scale part, small intricate details won’t be as important and in this case you’ll need to use a 1.0 mm nozzle. This will save you time without having an effect on quality. If you are printing smaller parts, then you’ll need a 0.35 mm nozzle as to make the details precise. Basically, the print resolution will give you a clear picture of what your 3D printer is able to make and how well it’s able to make it.
FDM or what is also known as FFF (fused filament fabrication) is an extrusion process which prints in very thin layers that cool down very quickly. SLA uses lasers to cure the part into its final shape and it is suitable for very small parts with a lot of detail. Home 3D printers with SLA are usually resin-based.
Resin printers (SLA & DLP) can be used to create prototypes and small gadgets as well as items for engineering applications, hearing aids and custom dental work. DLP is similar to SLA as it makes use of the same process (vat polymerisation) except DLP printers use UV light from a projector instead of a laser beam.
Open Source vs Closed Source
The software these use is not limited to a specific type printer or brand. Open source printers come with an open spool filament and offer more freedom to experiment as well as a larger number of materials to choose from. Closed source printers have a regularly updated software which is only available to a specific brand of printers. These are made to make it easy for the user to navigate through the UI but don’t offer as much versatility when it comes to printing.