How is 3D Printing Possible?

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Introduction: What is 3D printing?

3D printing creates physical objects from digital 3D models, usually by laying down layers of material.

This process is often called additive manufacturing, or AM for short.

3D printed objects begin as models created in a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file.

Many such models can be freely downloaded from the internet.

Introduction: What is 3D printing?

3D printing is exploding in the popular consciousness, and is even in the movies.

Tony Stark of Iron Man owns a Dimension Elite printer, and many of the movie props were made with 3D printing.

Over 50,000 people currently benefit from customized surgical equipment made with 3D printers.

How 3D Printing Works

A 3D printer is a kind of industrial robot that deposits powdered raw materials in layers, similar to a paper inkjet printer.

The printer “cuts” the digital model into 2D slices and then assembles the object slice by slice.

There are several different technologies used in 3D printing:


Selective laser sintering (SLS) uses lasers to fuse particles of plastic, metal, ceramic or glass into three-dimensional shapes.


Fused deposition modelling (FDM) unwinds plastic filament or metal wire from a coil, which then melts and is extruded to form layers.


Stereolithography (SLA) uses a vat of resin and an ultraviolet laser to build objects one at a time. The laser traces a pattern on the surface of the resin, and the exposure to UV light causes the resin to solidify into a 3D shape.

How 3D Printing Works

What is 3D printing being used for?


Aerospace, architecture, automotive and defence companies use 3D printers to build replacement parts. For example, General Electric uses a high-end printer to build turbine parts.

The Leap engine printed with this technology is several hundred pounds lighter than an average turbine, meaning reduced fuel consumption of 15%.

What is 3D printing being used for?

Rapid Prototyping

3D printing is used in rapid prototyping by many industries.

What is 3D printing being used for?


Companies like Nokia have released 3D designs for its phone cases so users can have custom phone cases printed.

What is 3D printing being used for?


Companies such as MYKITA use 3D printing to customise eyewear for their customers, generating 20 percent of its revenue ($4.8 million/ approximately £3.1 million) from 3D printed eyewear.


Organizations like Cornell Creative Machines Lab are experimenting with 3D printed food, which is squeezed out of extruders into custom shapes.

What is 3D printing being used for?

Medical applications

3D printing has been used to manufacture custom prosthetics for humans and animals, such as a 3D printed foot that let a duckling walk again and a 3D printed prosthetic hand for a girl in the UK. A 3D printed heart also aided in a heart surgery performed on an infant in New York.

What is 3D printing being used for?

Chinese company WinSun 3D printed a five-story apartment building, which took a day to print and five days to assemble.

WinSun also printed a 12,000 square foot mansion using recycled stone and construction waste.

As a follow-up in March 2014, WinSun 3D printed ten houses in one day.

What is 3D printing being used for?

WinSun followed up again by printing an entire apartment building with six floors and a villa, 1100 square meters large.

20 feet tall

33 feet wide

132 feet long

(3d Printer dimensions)

If traditional construction methods were used it would take 30 people three months. Costs are halved.

Researchers in Berkeley are working on a 3D printing method for building a 2500 foot house in 20 hours.

What is 3D printing being used for?

In March of 2015, the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design created the first and largest (to date) powder-based 3D printed cement structure, made from 840 precisely printed bricks.

In July 2014, Dutch company DUS Architects claimed to be building the first 3D printed canal house using bio-plastics made from rapeseeds. The company is using the KamerMaker, a shipping container-sized printer that can print entire rooms at once.

Dutch architect has designed an “endless” 3D printed house in the shape of a Mobius strip, inspired by Escher, which would cost $5.3 million (£3.5million) to construct.

What is 3D printing being used for?

Former Google SketchUp developer Eric Schimelpfenig has created WikiHouse, an open source construction kit that allows users to download, customize, and print their own house.

A California company called Emerging Objects has created an earthquake-resistant pillar using 3D printing.

Swiss project “Digital Grotesque” is an 11-ton, 16 square meter room 3D printed entirely out of sand. It features 260 million surfaces and took 13 months to complete.

Equipment needed

Industrial machines, such as those used by GE, cost upward of $500,000 (approximately £335,000) apiece.

Six years ago, the average home 3D printer cost £20,000, some well above £60,000. Today, one can get a 3D printer for around £1000.

Companies such as RepRap produce free, open-source 3D printers for consumer use.

RepRap machines can print their own replacement parts, and the plans for RepRaps are open-source and free, meaning an owner of a RepRap can print another RepRap.

BY 2016

US 3D printing experts predict a growth of $3.1 billion in 3D printing by 2016, with the UK placing as the fifth largest country for 3D printer usage.


Currently, mass-produced parts made with injection molding are made much faster than 3D printed parts... a few seconds as compared to hours or as much as a day.

Additive manufacturing raw materials produce less waste, weigh less, and are less costly to produce and transport than traditional manufacturing methods.

3D printing is currently cheaper and faster on a small scale, but more expensive and slower on a large scale. For example:

5000 x = 121 DAYS (3D printing $1.03/£0.67 per part)


15 DAYS (Traditional injection moulding and only $0.85/£0.55 per part)

There isn’t much hard data yet on how 3D-printed products compare to traditionally manufactured ones in terms of energy use, transportation costs, pollution and other potential environmental impacts over their lifetime.

Much of the current 3D printing stock is currently reliant on non-recycled plastic. Organizations like the Michigan Technological University's Open Sustainability Technology research group has found that using materials like recycled milk jugs for printing stock takes only 1/10th the energy required to make commercial filament.

The Dutch canal house project is undergoing study and testing to find “green” materials for its construction. They plan to construct the building with a filament made of 80% vegetable oil.

Italian designer Massimo Moretti is developing a printer that will create a sustainable house from powdered earth.

3D printed construction is still only as sustainable as the raw materials used in construction, and more studies into the long-term sustainability must still be done.

Timeline of 3D Printing

The first 3D printed model is made by Hideo Kodama at the Nagoya Municipal Research Institute.
Charles W. Hull patents the 3D printing process.

The first SLA (stereolithographic apparatus) is produced by 3D Systems.

The machine can produce complex machine parts overnight.


The first lab-grown organ, created with a 3D-printed synthetic scaffold, is implanted in a human.


Scientists at the Wake Forest Institute 3D print working kidney tissue.


RepRap, the open-source 3D printer company, is founded.


Laser sintering (SLS) machines enter use in the industrial sector.


The first self-replicating printer is released by RepRap.


Engineers at University of Southampton design and fly the first 3D-printed aircraft.

Kor Ecologic unveils Urbee, a prototype 3D-printed car.


National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Ohio is awarded $30 million from President Obama.


Defense Distributed create the first 3D printed gun called the “Liberator.” The 3D printable files were initially made public but were removed at the request of the United States Department of State.


Dutch architects start construction on a 3D printed canal house.


Chinese company WinSun construct first 3D printed villa and tallest apartment building.

sources – What is 3D printing

3D– free 3D models

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