What is a 3D printer?
3D printers have become almost commonplace these days, a feat that is pretty incredible considering the fact that most folks still aren’t completely sure of exactly what they are, what they are capable of, or how to really use them best. The question “what is a 3D printer, anyway?” pops up quite regularly when this technology is brought up, but that hasn’t stopped the technology from becoming more affordable, more accessible, and more important to our every day lives.
If you’ve been thinking about getting your hands on a 3D printer, but still aren’t quite sure of whether or not it makes sense for you and your budget or your workflow, hopefully you’ll find the inside information below useful. We think you’ll find a 3D printer becomes an almost essential addition to your workspace once you understand the magic that it is capable of!
Let’s dive right in.
Read More: How much is a 3d printer
What exactly is 3D printing?
Imagine that you had the capabilities to scan any three-dimensional objects – and we mean ANY three-dimensional objects – upload them into a piece of design software, and then have replicas of those 3D objects produced in a variety of different construction materials (inside of 30 minutes or less in most circumstances), all without any headache or hassle whatsoever.
Sounds like something straight out of science fiction, right?
After all, we are basically talking about a technology that would allow you to pretty much “clone” anything and everything that has already been produced and replicate it as often as you like and without any restriction.
That’s what the amazing technology of 3D printers brings to the table!
By taking advantage of 3D scanner solutions (that look a lot like the price of guns you see at cash registers in the grocery store), you are able to effortlessly scan most any three-dimensional object and then have it completely replicated (down to the finest level of detail) with the 3D printer solutions available on the market today.
This is all done utilizing “printers” that essentially melt a plastic material and then lay it down on a printing plant (when we’re talking about desktop variants and consumer models – commercial options melt metal powders at high temperatures to produce even more robust “prototypes”).
The printers follow blueprints that have been scanned into CAD software or built from scratch in a design program, replicating every aspect of the finished printing project in the physical world in a way that simply wasn’t possible even just 30 or 40 years ago.
But before we really get into what is a 3D printer are capable of today, it’s important to understand where 3D printers came from and the history that laid the foundation for this amazing technology.
A quick history of 3D printing
The first-ever 3D printer was produced by an inventor named Chuck Hall back in 1983, essentially combining a computer and a “printer” that would apply thin layers of ultraviolet curable materials on top of one another until the finished product was produced.
Later on, he founded a company by the name of 3D System that went on to really pioneer 3D printing technology, and by the time the 1990s rolled around gigantic industrial sized 3D printers were being used by businesses all over the world for rapid prototyping and research and development.
In 2009 (just a short while ago), 3D printers broke into the consumer market. Patents for “Fused Deposition Modeling” had expired in this year, and that allowed a number of companies to take advantage of this incredible 3D printing technology in their own solutions – and the 3D printing explosion was upon us.
By the time 2013 rolled around, more than 72,000 3D printers had been sold compared to just 66 3D printers in 2007. In 2015, that number jumped to 232,000 printers – and many expect that by the time 2020 rolls around nearly a million printers or more will be sold every year.
Applications for 3D printing solutions today
A lot of small businesses are taking advantage of 3D printer solution to rapidly prototype potential new products and components that they want to use to build their business, the kinds of prototypes that would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past but now only cost a few hundred dollars total.
Schools and universities are taking advantage of these printer solutions to help rebuild and reestablish the manufacturing community, teaching students how to build out new products and new solutions utilizing these printers before they go into mass production.
Consumers are even taking advantage of these printer solutions to build out replacement parts for vintage automobiles, to better improve their favorite hobbies (especially in the modeling world), into generally tinker around with. This is where we are seeing the most growth in the most rapid forms of experimentation in the 3D printer world, and it’s likely that this is where the “next generation” of solutions come from when the technology makes the next leap forward.
Even the medical world is getting into utilizing the solution, quite literally “printing” new organs by utilizing organic material instead of plastic filaments and other construction materials. We are seeing game changing new advancements being produced on a regular basis, just because this technology is now in the hands of the masses.
At the end of the day, those asking what is a 3D printer really want to ask what is a 3D printer capable of, and the answer turns out to be pretty much anything and everything that someone can imagine.