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  • Ben Seaman

Breaking Down the Basics of 3D Printing: A Must-Read for Tech Enthusiasts

3D printing is an innovative technique of additive manufacturing, whereby an object is created by adding numerous layers of material. These layers are added one by one to allow for intricate and complex designs to be created. This procedure makes 3D printing an efficient and cost-effective alternative to traditional manufacturing processes. Comparatively, outside of the manufacturing sector 3D printing can also be used to make consumer items such as jewelry and much more. The range of 3D printing possibilities is vast and diverse and creates interest in 3D printing. This article will detail the classic engineering design process from conception to production.



Computer-Aided Design (CAD):

The process of 3D printing starts with a 3D CAD file generated in software like Solidworks. Once the 3D design is complete it must be saved in an STL file format and imported into a 3D printing software like Cura or IdeaMaker. The user will then configure the software settings and slice the file to generate the G-code required for the 3D printer. The G-code file translates a 3D file into height layers which the printer lays down to create a part.


Printer Configuration:

3D printing machines will have a filament roll holder, a filament feeder, a printing head and a print bed.


The process of printing starts with the user installing the filament material of choice into the roll holder. The user must then upload a G-code file to the printer using a USB or a remote cloud service.


In most cases, we recommend the user verify the 3D printer’s state before starting a print job. This is especially important if multiple users have access to the printer. A printer’s bed surface may be missing or not installed properly, for example, creating the potential for damage to the print head. Consider implementing a standard operating procedure in these cases to avoid damaging the printer or generating a failed print.


The print can now be started after verifying the printer’s state and uploading the G-code file.


Print Monitoring

Keeping an eye on the status of a print can be very helpful in avoiding potential print issues. This is most applicable when trying a new material or soon after performing a maintenance task such as cleaning or replacing a print nozzle.


Many printers now offer cloud access to a stationary camera on the printer that shows the status of the print head. The user can access the camera feed through a cell phone application or a web browser.


During the monitoring phase, the user will notice how the printer physically operates. The works are as follows:

  1. Heat print bed and nozzle using heating elements

  2. Wait until desired printing temperatures are reached

  3. Initiate filament feeder pull-on filament roll

  4. Flow material through the print nozzle before starting the print

  5. Move the print head in X and Y directions to the print’s starting point

  6. Lay down the first layer of the object being printed

  7. Move the print bed down in the Z direction making room for the next layer

  8. Print the object one layer at a time until the print is complete


Print Quality Control:

Print jobs can range from a few minutes to a few days depending on the size of the print and the speed of the printer. Once the printer is finished the user will be able to see the full object on the print bed. This is the most exciting part when we can finally see and feel the object!


The part may be printed with a raft, skirt, or brim. The picture below shows a raft in dark yellow which can be used as a sacrificial layer when removing the object from the print bed. A chisel would be a great tool for separating the part from the printing surface.


Supports shown in light blue below would have been used in areas where a print has an overhang. These supports will be removed along with the raft to obtain the finished object.


Preview of a part with a raft in ideaMaker 4.2.3 (Source: Salah Masad)


3D printing is an innovative additive manufacturing technique. The classic 3D printing process involves CAD, printer configuration, print monitoring, and print quality control. To successfully use a 3D printer, users will create a design using CAD and generate the G-code required for the printer. This G-code will then be uploaded to the printer, whereby the user will then monitor the printing process to ensure no printing errors or malfunctions occur. Printing jobs can vary in duration, however, once completed the user can use a chisel to remove the object from the printing bed. 3D printing is a relatively easy process to learn and once done, the possible creations are endless.


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