Additive manufacturing takes virtual blueprints from computer aided design (CAD) or animation modeling software and "slices" them into digital cross-sections for the machine to successively use as a guideline for printing. Depending on the machine used, material or a binding material is deposited on the build bed or platform until material/binder layering is complete and the final 3D model has been "printed." It is a WYSIWYG process where the virtual model and the physical model are almost identical.
A standard data interface between CAD software and the machines is the STL file format. An STL file approximates the shape of a part or assembly using triangular facets. Smaller facets produce a higher quality surface. PLY is a scanner generated input file format, and VRML (or WRL) files are often used as input for 3D printing technologies that are able to print in full color. Printing
To perform a print, the machine reads the design from an .stl file and lays down successive layers of liquid, powder, paper or sheet material to build the model from a series of cross sections. These layers, which correspond to the virtual cross sections from the CAD model, are joined together or automatically fused to create the final shape. The primary advantage of this technique is its ability to create almost any shape or geometric feature.
Printer resolution describes layer thickness and X-Y resolution in dpi (dots per inch), or micrometres. Typical layer thickness is around 100 micrometres (0.1 mm), although some machines such as the Objet Connex series and 3D Systems' ProJet series can print layers as thin as 16 micrometres. X-Y resolution is comparable to that of laser printers. The particles (3D dots) are around 50 to 100 micrometres (0.05–0.1 mm) in diameter.
Construction of a model with contemporary methods can take anywhere from several hours to several days, depending on the method used and the size and complexity of the model. Additive systems can typically reduce this time to a few hours, although it varies widely depending on the type of machine used and the size and number of models being produced simultaneously.
Traditional techniques like injection molding can be less expensive for manufacturing polymer products in high quantities, but additive manufacturing can be faster, more flexible and less expensive when producing relatively small quantities of parts. 3D printers give designers and concept development teams the ability to produce parts and concept models using a desktop size printer. Finishing
Though the printer-produced resolution is sufficient for many applications, printing a slightly oversized version of the desired object in standard resolution, and then removing material with a higher-resolution subtractive process can achieve greater precision.
Some additive manufacturing techniques are capable of using multiple materials in the course of constructing parts. Some are able to print in multiple colors and color combinations simultaneously. Some also utilize supports when building. Supports are removable or dissolvable upon completion of the print, and are used to support overhanging features during construction. Additive processes
Rapid prototyping worldwide
The Audi RSQ was made with rapid prototyping industrial KUKA robots
Several different 3D printing processes have been invented since the late 1970s. The printers were originally large, expensive, and highly limited in what they could produce.
A number of additive processes are now available. They differ in the way layers are deposited to create parts and in the materials that can be used. Some methods melt or soften material to produce the layers, e.g. selective laser sintering (SLS) and fused deposition modeling (FDM), while others cure liquid materials using different sophisticated technologies, e.g. stereolithography (SLA). With laminated object manufacturing (LOM), thin layers are cut to shape...
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