3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file.
The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the entire object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object.
How does 3D printing work?
It all starts with making a virtual design of the object you want to create. This virtual design is made in a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file using a 3D modeling program (for the creation of a totally new object) or with the use of a 3D scanner (to copy an existing object). A 3D scanner makes a 3D digital copy of an object.
3d scanners use different technologies to generate a 3d model such as time-of-flight, structured / modulated light, volumetric scanning and many more.
Recently, many IT companies like Microsoft and Google enabled their hardware to perform 3d scanning, a great example is Microsoft’s Kinect. This is a clear sign that future hand-held devices like smartphones will have integrated 3d scanners. Digitizing real objects into 3d models will become as easy as taking a picture. Prices of 3d scanners range from very expensive professional industrial devices to 30 USD DIY devices anyone can make at home.
Below you’ll find a short demonstration of the process of 3D scanning with a professional HDI 3D scanner that uses structured light:
To prepare a digital file for printing, the 3D modeling software “slices” the final model into hundreds or thousands of horizontal layers. When the sliced file is uploaded in a 3D printer, the object can be created layer by layer. The 3D printer reads every slice (or 2D image) and creates the object, blending each layer with hardly any visible sign of the layers, with as a result the three dimensional object.