3 D Printing - staying ahead September 29 2017, 0 Comments

The first 3D printer can be traced back to 1981 when Hodeo Kodama reported on a system of rapid prototyping using additive technology.  The machine he described was able to lay down, layer by layer in a controlled shape, using a photopolymer.  Photopolymers are light-activated , liquid resins which can be cured with light.  This allows a substance to be extruded in a pliable form and then quickly hardened as it is exposed to light in a very controlled way.

In 1984, Mr Charles Hull patented his printer using stereolithography.  This process uses liquid acrylic, also a photopolymer, solidified by light.

Both these processes are additive in nature as the 3D model is built by adding material, layer upon layer, until the model is built.

Building a model the other way round is also possible, using subtractive technology.  It is a little like carving away all pieces that don’t look like the model and leaving behind a perfect ‘printed’ form.

Whatever process you use, it all starts with a digital design.

3 D DESIGN 3D digital design is a specialized aspect of graphic design and requires the  designer to create the object while considering all dimensions – width, depth and height, and sometimes colour too.

Designing in 3D is aided by software, developed for this purpose.  It allows the designer to create virtually anything that they can imagine and examine the object on the computer screen from all sides.  The design is then converted into a digital file that the 3D printer will ‘understand’. 

This language is a series of sequential code.  The code is made up of multiple thousands of positions or addresses and directs the printer exactly what to do, where and when and at what pace in a three-dimensional space.  This code, or language (numerical control programming) is commonly referred to as G-Code.

G-Code is used in many types of computer-aided manufacturing, directing directs the motors that control mechanisms of the machine, including 3D printers.  This happens every millisecond of the job, ensuring that the final object is exact and complete.

One of the popular means of printing is to use a plastic or corn-starch polymer (PLA) that melts when heated beyond a certain temperature, extruded through a fine nozzle and then dried rapidly.  The find strands are laid down according to the code and eventually form the three-dimensional model.  The finished model is then either be used as a finished product or as the positive mould for casting and replicating the model in another substance such as resin.

Rapid prototyping is one of the areas of 3D printing that is proving most useful.  Until the advent of this method, artists and technicians spent days crafting  and recrafting prototypes.  3D printing has changed much of that as it is quicker and much easier to make changes until the perfect prototype is found.  All changes are made digitally and the printer set to print the model again.

3D printing maybe the factory of the future.  At the moment, it is most effectively used for rapid prototyping, saving many hours of laborious work utilizing the flexibility and scope of digital design.

At Prestige Awards, we regularly use 3D printing to create prototypes for trophies.  Customers can see and feel the model before commissioning the work on the final product whereas before, all we had was a sketch or a picture.  As branding and identity become evermore important to everyone, unique trophies and awards need to be developed to match.

3D printing give us this capability, keeping us ahead of the game!