Modern technology has brought changes in industrial fields and other areas of day to day life resulting to quality and efficient services offered in various sectors. With 3D printing technology, manufacturing industry has evolved effectively with improved services which have resulted to quality products. In 3D printing or additive manufacturing, three-dimensional solid objects are made from a digital file and the creation of a 3D printing objects is achieved through the use of additive process (Wijk, 2015, p. 12). In this process, an object is created by laying down successive layers of materials until the entire object is created as it is designed and in the required form. Every layer appears to be as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object.
In the twenty-first century, technology has affected recent human life probably more than any other field in the face of earth. Availability of steam engine, cars, light bulb and other more is a clear indication of our better life styles, openings for new avenues and possibilities although to accomplish this it takes time, sometimes decades before the truly disruptive nature of the technology becomes apparent. It is believed that 3D printing or manufacturing (AM) has the capability to become one of these technology as the world evolves from one generation to another. As stated by Biehler, (2014, p.49-53) the 3D printing has been covered in many television channel, mainstreams, and newspapers and across online resource. 3D printing is going to put an end the traditional manufacturing, revolutionize design and impose geographical, economical, and demographic and security implications for the purpose of change in the lives of people.
The differentiating basic principle in 3D printing is that it is an additive manufacturing process and the advanced technology has built up parts making it to be a radical different manufacturing method. Limitations to traditional manufacturing has been based on human labor but despite this, world of manufacturing have changed where automated processes like machining, casting, and moulding are current with complex processes that require machines, computers and super powered technology (Chua, 2015, p. 61-68). Another limitation is observed within the overall manufacturing when achieving the end product itself or to produce a tool for casting processes as a result of technologies demand in subtracting material from a larger block.
Traditional design and production processes in application impose a number of unacceptable constraints which include expensive tooling, fixtures and the need for assembling for complex parts. On the other hand, Gibson (2015, p. 99-105) states that, 3D printing is a process where objects are created directly by adding material layer by layer in many ways depending on the technology used. Using 3D printing, innovation is driven with unprecedented freedom and at the same time prohibitive cost and lead time is reduced creating freedom. To avoid assembly requirements with intricate geometry and complex features created at no extra cost, components are designed accordingly in order to offer the best result. As an emerging energy efficient technology, 3D printing provide environmental efficiencies for example in manufacturing process where up to 90% of standard material is utilized.
In recent years, 3D printing have moved beyond the manufacturing process and industrial prototyping and this is as a result of technology been more accessible to small companies and even individuals. Availability of multi-national corporations and the domain of huge, has enabled the scale and economics of owning a 3D printer at an affordable price as compared in early years (Hoskins, 2013, p.111). The cost of 3D printers been affordable, technology has opened up a wider audience and the exponential adoption rate has continued as the space on all fronts, more systems, materials, applications, services and ancillaries have increased.
The reality of affordable on-demand prototyping in the market were first conceived by visionaries at MIT and in 1993 they developed one of the fastest and most affordable method in prototyping- 3D printing (Biehler, 2014, p. 27-34). In 1994, Z Corporation was founded and they put on-demand prototyping to every designer or engineer and this was to ensure the development for the 3D printers. Documentation of the printers will result to the quick evolvement in delivering faster speed, affordability, accuracy, color and usability. In 1996, Z402 was introduced in the market as the first 3D printer and the speed was redefining and affordability was in rapid prototyping. This was the first generation arrival and it also included the Z402c and Z406 which were multicolored with more vivid and informative models that were needed.
In the second generation, there was improved performance, affordability, and color. The first release was ZPrinter 310 in 2003 which introduced breakthrough speed, simplified user experience and affordability was unprecedented. High-resolution printing emerged in 2005, for example, the Spectrum Z 510 and had a 3D printing that was redefined. The third generation focused on ease of use among the users. According to Wijk, (2015, p. 98-102) the ZPrinter 450 was the third generation of 3D printers and it was easy to use and office compatibility. 3D printers that were automated and self-contained created convenience in a work place and were office-friendliness. In 2008, ZPrinter 650 followed which had increased the size and good performance. As a result of these new 3D printers, accessibility for new classes increased for users.
The 3D printing technology
As evidenced in industries revolution, manufacturing has been synonymous with factories, production lines, machine tools and economies of scale. It has started thinking about manufacturing without tooling, supply chains or assembly lines and this results in the emerging of 3D printing services (Gibson, 2015, p. 18). The 3D printing is making its mark as it reshapes product development and manufacturing and this make small businesses and corporate departments into productive entities with quality services and the product.
In a 3D world, a 3D printer needs to have instructions for what to print, a file which is a Computer Aided Design (CAD) which use the 3D modeling program that can either be from the scratch or begin with a 3D model created by a 3D scanner. Different technologies are used by the 3D scanner to generate additive model and these include the time-of-flight, structured/modulated light and volumetric scanning including others (Biehler, 2014, p. 40). With the move of the technology, many IT companies for example Microsoft and Google has enabled their hardware to perform 3D scanning. This implies future hand-held devices such as smartphones will have integrated 3D scanners.
According to the technology used in 3D printing, several processes take place which facilitate the development of the manufactured product. The processes provided quality product is delivered at the specified time. In some cases, softening material and melting are used as the method to of enhancing proper arrangement of a layers. In this way of printing, selective laser sintering (SLS) and fused deposition modeling (FDM) are the commonly used methods. Another common technology called stereolithography (SLA) is used in printing where curing a photo-reactive with a UV laser is done (Chua, 2015, p.33).
In printing a 3D object, a 3D printer based on the Vat Photopolymerisation method has a container that carry photopolymer resin which is then hardened with Ultra-Violet light source. Stereolithography (SLA) is the commonly used technology in this process whereby vat of liquid ultraviolet curable photopolymer resin and an ultraviolet laser are employed to build the layers of object one at a time (Hoskins, 2013, p.38). In each layer, the laser beam traces a cross-section of the part pattern on the surface of the liquid resin. On the new liquid surface, the subsequent layer is traced where the previous layers are joined. As a result, a complete tree dimensional object is formed by this project. Stereolithography requires the use of supporting structures as a way of attaching the part to the elevator platform and to hold the object as it floats in the basin filled with liquid resin.
Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is another method for 3D printing technology which has been used to yield quality and effective products and it was invented in the 1980s by Scott Crump. FDM technology object is produced by extruding a stream of melted thermoplastic where layers formed. Each layer stacks on top and fuses with previous layer and the material harden immediately after leaving the extrusion nozzle. This is one of the less expensive 3D printing method as ABS plastic (thick Lego), PLA (Polylactic acid) and biodegradable polymer are used in printing and are produced from organic material (Biehler, 2014, p.57). This FDM technology works where plastic filament or metal wire is used and is always unwounded from a coil and supplying material to an extrusion nozzle that turns the flow on and off. When support structures are required, the software that comes with this technology automatically generates and two materials are dispensed, one for the model and the other one for a disposable support structure.
For any applications with overhanging geometries in the FDM/FFF, processes require support structure which entails a second, water-soluble materials and this help in washing away once the print is complete. These support materials can also be removed by manually snapping them off from the parts. Despite support structures been a limitation of the entry level FDM 3D printers, the system has evolved incorporating dual extrusion heads hence becoming less of an issues (Chua, 2015, p. 202). As evaluated in model produced, the FDM process is an accurate and reliable which is office friendly even though extensive post-processing is required.
3D Printing materials
From the early days of technology different materials have been used in 3D printing services. A wide variety of these materials is available in different material types as they are supplied from different states such as powder, filament, pellets, granules, the resin including others. According to an application, specific materials are developed for specific platforms an example been the dental sector. Every material is used according to the application that is handled by the 3D printing and, therefore, clear guidelines are outlined to help in coming up with the best material which will create an application that is efficient.
As argued by Gibson, (2015, p. 132-136), Nylon, or Polyamide, is used as a powder form with sintering process and is mostly used in the FDM process. It has been evaluated and found to be strong, flexible and of high quality in terms of durability suiting it as a material for 3D printing. It is combined (in powder form) with another powdered aluminum to produce a common 3D printing material for sintering-Alumide. Another common plastic used for 3D printing is ABS and is used on the entry-level FDM 3D printers in filament form. It is found in different colors and is a strong plastic accessed from a number of on-proprietary sources and this makes it to be popular.
PLA being a bio-degradable plastic material, it has gained traction as a proper material in 3D printing. This material is useful in resin format for DLP/SL processes which produce quality and durable products from the 3D printing (Hoskins, 2013, p. 243). Variety of colors including transparent has been offered by this material proving it to be a useful option for some applications of 3D printing. Compared with ABS, the durability of this material is lower...
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