One of the most promising aspects of 3-D printing is that anyone can take advantage of it. You can use the technology to create anything and everything.
Of course, you’ll need a blueprint of sorts first in the form of a 3-D model, which can be created using any number of tools. You’ll also need to decide beforehand what type of printer you’re going to use to do the work, and also what material you choose. That makes all the difference, because materials like gold, silver and bronze are printed in a different way than something like plastic or filament-based materials.
For example, with polyamide, alumide, ABS or rubber, you can design and print pieces with interlocking parts. You simply cannot do this with other materials, because of printing limitations with the technology itself.
To print any object using 3-D technology, you first need to find or create the blueprint. It gets fed into the printer — just like a digital file — and the printer creates it using filament or materials. Nearly all printers move layer by layer from the bottom of an item or object up. This is important and also needs to be considered when designing the model.
How 3-D Printing Can Benefit Your Business
3-D printing technology can provide a few benefits for business, big or small. One could even argue that there are also hidden benefits yet to be discovered, simply due to the nature of the technology.
The 3-D printing industry is expected to grow by more than 31 percent each year from 2014 to 2020, culminating in a $21 billion global revenue total.
In other words, it’s becoming more and more common in the commercial and business world, and it’s easy to see why.
- Prototyping: Printers can be used for prototyping and product development, specifically to come up with rapid examples and models of a product. This is especially helpful if you’re working with investors and need to show them how something is going to work, as opposed to simply explaining it. You can print a working model to use as a demo.
- Customization: With conventional manufacturing, when you’re already producing on a wide scale, it’s difficult to customize and make changes for specific clients. If they need a particular component or element removed or added, you can’t simply do that for them without halting the production line. With 3-D printing, on the other hand, you can do exactly that. You can take your blueprint or digital model and alter it to meet your client’s needs on the fly.
- Improve Standards and Conditions: Even if you’re not in a business that has to do with manufacturing and providing products, 3-D printers can still provide many benefits, improving upon traditional processes and even inspiring new ideas. You can use the technology to print objects, items, tools and even devices that can help you do your work and create a safer environment.
Let’s say you handle window panes, whether that be installing them in a home, creating them or even transporting them. Whatever the case, you can print 3-D bumpers to cover the edges of those panes. It will protect your workers from sharp edges, and it will reinforce the material. That’s just one example.
You could 3-D print stands for a tablet or portable payment system. You can create cases or protective shells for electronics you use in your warehouse. You can make belt clips and hangers to store tools, stationary or other small items.
The possibilities are endless. If you look at it that way, it explains why more than 60 percent of enterprises either already use or are evaluating 3-D printing technology.
Step 1: Choose Your Tool
The most common form of modeling software is CAD, or computer-aided drawing. It’s often used for designing prototypes, architecture and more.
It also happens to be the type of tool we would recommend. Keep in mind, however, that you can use any image editing or design tool you wish. You are not confined to CAD-based software.
Some of the best modeling software that’s suitable for beginners includes Google SketchUp, 3DTin, Blender, Tinkercad and OpenSCAD.
Of course, professional tools are also available — which can be expensive — like AutoCAD, Rhino, Maya, SolidWorks, and Pro Engineer. It’s best to use the commercial tools if you already have a subscription for work or personal reasons. If you don’t already have access to the software, then the free options will work just fine.
If you aren’t going to design the model yourself, you can skip to step two.
Step 2: Create or Choose Your Model
Creating a model from scratch can be a long, drawn-out process, especially if you need to become familiar with the software before you dive in. Because of that, we can’t walk you through things, at least not in full detail. If you need help, you can always turn to the documentation for the software you chose.
Google SketchUp, for instance, has a portal filled to the brim with educational resources, tutorials, guides and more.
It is important to remember, however, that you should design the model from the ground up, because that’s how printers work.
If you don’t want to design the model from scratch or create your own, you can download a model from one of the many databases out there. Some examples are Google 3D Warehouse, GrabCAD, 3DVIA, 3D Marvels, Thingiverse, Ponoko Product Plans and more.
Most modeling toolsets — like SketchUp — allow you to create or draw a 2-D shape or item and then convert it to a 3-D format. A circle, for instance, would become a long cylinder. This is not conducive to detailed models, but it does simplify the process if you have a 2-D mockup already handy.
Step 3: Print Your Prototype
It is best practice to come up with a couple of rapid prototypes before settling on the final design. That means modeling your item, printing it, revising and continuing the process until you have it exactly the way you want.
That’s because 3-D printers are not perfect, and the technology can be finicky when it comes to creating things. If your model or design is complex, it may take a few revisions before the item is printed by the machine the way you want it to be. You may have added pieces that need to be shaved off, or thin and small parts that break during the printing process. It just depends on what you’re trying to create and how you modeled the item in your software tool.
Once you learn how to design a 3-D model for printing, it can open up a world of possibilities for your business.