3D Printing NYC – How 3D Printing Works

Here at 3D NYC we often get asked about 3D printing and rapid prototyping solutions by a wide range of creative professionals for an even wider range of real world applications of this technology. This has inspired us to write a short guide about the reach that 3D printing as service has and a little background on how rapid prototyping works.

How does 3D Printing work?

3D printing is an additive manufacturing technique, meaning that material is built up from a digital file. This is different from subtractive manufacturing like CNC milling machines which can take a solid piece of material and carve the excess material to create the desired volume.

Everything starts from a digital CAD (computer aided design) file which in turn is exported to an .STL (stereo lithography) file that is readable by the 3D Printers.

see how to export .STL files from your 3D modeling program here

At 3D NYC we use FDM (fused deposition modeling) printers which print in ABS Plastic, a rigid, strong yet flexible material that in a few short steps can be easily post-processed to turn a prototype into a number of different desired final materials.

What kinds of 3D Printers are there?

FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) – This is type of 3D Modeling that we use. Fused deposition modeling heats up thermoplastic material to a melting point which gradually builds up thin topographic layers. Support materials can also be automatically generated for greater complexity in 3D Prints.

SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) – Uses a pulsed laser to fuse material particles together. This type of printing does not use support structures, because the model is surrounded by unsintered powder.

Stereolithography – Uses a curable vat of ultra violet liquid that from which cross sections of cured material are layered to gradually form an object. This form of fabrication has greater limitations than SLS or FDM printing, in terms of build volumes and costs.

Who uses 3D Printing?

3D Printing is a very multi-disciplinary tool. Here in NYC we see this service being used by a wide array of creative design fields including industrial designers, engineers, inventors, jewelry designers, architects and even by medical researchers. This can range in scale from simple hobby projects to large scale industrial manufacturing.

As 3D Printing technology becomes more cost effective and accessible, we at 3D NYC believe that high resolution 3D printers could become as ubiquitous as color laser jet printers. (There was a time when people had a hard time conceptualizing the usefulness of high resolution home color printers!)

Companies like AirBus have been attempting to develop a full scale 3D printed commercial aircraft, and companies like Organovo are currently

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attempting to be able to 3D Print functional human organs. (They have already been able to print connective tissue and blood vessels)

As 3D Printing becomes more common, it’s possible that rural families with an internet connection will no longer have to travel long distances to get a simple tool. Even wrenches with interconnected moving parts can already be printed.

We have already seen home appliance manufacturers start to release digital models of replacement parts. Dishwasher broken? 3D Print the broken piece.

Although the output of 3D printers is currently limited by material costs and print sizes, even in this primitive state of the technology, 3D printing has already shown incredible reach and usefulness to a long list of creative disciplines.

Advances in printable material properties, print volumes, and cost effectiveness will undoubtedly have the ability to change the built world around us.

Here are some examples of work that 3D NYC is inspired by.