Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Previous means of producing a prototype typically took person-hours, many tools, and skilled labor. For example, after a new street light luminaire was digitally designed, drawings were sent to skilled craftspeople where the design on paper was painstakingly followed and a three-dimensional prototype was produced in wood by utilizing an entire shop full of expensive wood working machinery and tools. This typically was not a speedy process and costs of the skilled labor were not cheap. Hence the need to develop a faster and cheaper process to produce prototypes. As an answer to this need, rapid prototyping was born.
One variation of 3D printing consists of an inkjet printing system. Layers of a fine powder (plaster, corn starch, or resins) are selectively bonded by "printing" an adhesive from the inkjet printhead in the shape of each cross-section as determined by a CAD file. This technology is the only one that allows for the printing of full colour prototypes. It is also recognized as the fastest method.
Alternately, these machines feed liquids, such as photopolymer, through an inkjet-type printhead to form each layer of the model. These Photopolymer Phase machines use an ultraviolet (UV) flood lamp mounted in the print head to cure each layer as it is deposited.
Fused deposition modeling (FDM), a technology also used in traditional rapid prototyping, uses a nozzle to deposit molten polymer onto a support structure, layer by layer.
Another approach is selective fusing of print media in a granular bed. In this variation, the unfused media serves to support overhangs and thin walls in the part being produced, reducing the need for auxiliary temporary supports for the workpiece. Typically a laser is used to sinter the media and form the solid. Examples of this are SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) and DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering), using metals.