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How Does a 3D Printer Work?

Think 3D printing only benefits engineers and major corporations? Think again.

3D printing, also referred to as additive manufacturing, may not be a common household technology just yet. However, through continued innovation in the field, 3D printing is leading a revolution beyond traditional printing and manufacturing industries.

It’s critical to first understand what 3D printing is, how these printers operate, and how a 3D printer can be an exciting addition to your own home or business.

What is 3D printing, and how does a 3D printer work?

At its core, 3D printing is the creation of a three-dimensional solid object printed in successive thin layers of material, as directed by a digital file you create. Initially, this technology most benefited creators of engineering prototypes, but recent advances have expanded 3D printing into varying industries and even increased usage of 3D printers in the home.

How 3D printers work

3D-printed objects begin with a digital blueprint created using computer-aided design (CAD) software. From there, the only limitations for creators are access to raw materials for the printing process and their own imagination.

With the blueprint ready, 3D print creators simply:

• Gather raw materials

• Fill the printer with materials

• Prepare the 3D build platform

• Let the 3D printer work its magic

The physical object is printed layer by layer per the computer-aided design (CAD) software blueprint until it’s completed. 3D printers may use different technologies or methods, but here are the four most common 3D printing processes:

• Polyjet

• Stereolithography (SLA)

• Digital laser projection (DLP)

• Filament deposition modeling (FDM), aka fused filament fabrication

Each specific 3D printing technology has its own drawbacks and benefits, including costs, capabilities, and type of usable materials. Extensive research and a thorough understanding of your intentions are key to selecting the best solution for your home, business, or organization.

What do 3D printers use for printing materials?

While 3D printing materials have typically been metals and plastics, recent innovations have expanded the types of usable materials. This makes answering the question, “What is 3D printing made of?” difficult, as it could be almost any material imaginable.

Aside from the materials 3D printers can use, it’s critical that these printers use them efficiently while extracting and reclaiming any unused material. As a result, 3D printing has begun to modernize a variety of industries within and beyond the realm of traditional manufacturing.

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Consider these 3D printing use cases across various industries:

• Customizing and printing auto parts

• Casting in concrete for architecture and engineering projects

• Assembling crash dummies to better simulate crash impacts, particularly for elderly passengers

• Using isomalt sugar as a scaffolding to create complex biological structures, for human cell and tissue growth

The list goes on, but your next question may be, what does a 3D printer do for the budding home enthusiast or entrepreneur? Plenty.

How to use a 3D printer in your home

While these printers may not be in every home yet, they do offer the opportunity to print a large number of common items you may normally buy or assemble yourself. When you can customize your blueprint designs and print these items at home, 3D printers offer several benefits:

• Bring art projects to life

• Create unique gifts for family and friends

• Reduce household expenses on everyday objects

• Print spare parts to repair furniture and appliances

• Produce prototypes of items for your business or hobby

Summary

3D printing requires upfront investment for the printer and raw materials, which can put it out of reach for many novice makers. But with strategic planning and implementation, 3D printing can deliver numerous new opportunities for creativity and utility in your home and business.

At HP®, we have specific business printing solutions, like the HP Jet Fusion 500/300 Series, which tap into this mindset by allowing you to improve your design and production cycles’ speed, cost-effectiveness, and eco-friendliness.