What if there was a technological device that, when connected to your computer, could actually print out solid objects? If it sounds like something out of Star Trek – guess again! Although we’re not quite to the level of “Beam me up, Scottie!”, 3D printing is still very much a reality, and has the potential to completely re-shape the world as we know it.
What is 3D printing?
If you haven’t ever heard of 3D printing, it’s not surprising. Although the technology has been utilized within industrial settings for over 30 years, 3D printers for consumers and small businesses are just now beginning to take off. In a nutshell, 3D printing is an additive manufacturing technique which is used to build up objects in multiple layers. After one layer is printed and created, it is hardened, another layer is added, and so-forth. The process can take several hours to complete, however, the end result is a tangible 3D object.
What is 3D printing used for?
The most common use of this technology is to create rapid prototypes within the industrial field. These prototypes prove to be very useful for architects, automakers, etc. It is possible, though, for industrial 3D printers to create final products – especially in the case of metal objects. Traditionally, machining of metal componets would start with a piece of metal larger than the finished part. From this material metal would be removed on all surface’s and interiors such as cavity’s and holes. Imagine using a 3D printer that would lay down your part one layer at a time with all holes, cavities, contours and surfaces finished! The savings in time and materials that can be realized are tremendous.
Consumer-oriented 3D printers, on the other hand, are typically used for hobbies and personal interests. This type of 3D printing is more for enjoyment in seeing what you can do with this new technology. Even a small desk top 3D printer will set you back over $2,000 but if you want to be the first guy on the block to have a 3D printer and you love to tinker with new stuff the price could be worth it to you.
What methods are used in 3D printing?
There are several different methods of printing 3D objects to choose from. These options are based upon the material used for printing, the number of colors desired, the preferred resolution, and price. Here are several of the more common techniques used for printing in 3D:
- Fused deposition modeling – This is the most common method used in 3D printing. Fused deposition modeling (FDM) utilizes a spool of either plastic or metal wire which is melted and placed by the nozzle of the printer. The material will quickly harden before the next layer is added.
- Inkjet printing – These models are the most similar to the devices that are already used within homes and offices for standard 2D printing. By using special inks (such as resins and binders), an inkjet 3D printer will build up an object through layering. These printers are the only one of their kind that allow for custom coloring.
- Selective laser sintering – Sintering is a process that is used to create solid objects from powders. With selective laser sintering (SLS), this powder may be in the form of metal, plastic, ceramic, or glass. SLS makes use of a pulsed laser to “draw” a cross-section of the object to be printed. Once the powder fuses, another layer is formed on top. This method is typically used within the industrial sector, as it requires the usage of a powerful laser.
- Digital light processing – Most often referred to as DLP, this method of printing converts a vat of polymer into a strong solid via exposure to light. By utilizing this method, a very high accuracy and resolution can be achieved. Like SLS, this is generally a method utilized in the industrial field.
What is the future of 3D printing?
It will take some time, but the goal for 3D printing is to change the way the world does business and interacts. One day, the technology may allow us to craft just about anything – from tools to toys and everything in-between. Perhaps in the future we will be able to fax tangible objects, eliminating the need for postal services mail packages. Only time will tell what all this technology can achieve for us, but the future may be closer than you think!
One of the ongoing problems with the inkjet cartridge is that if it is not used enough the ink that is left inside each of the microscopic nozzles in the print head drys up. OK, lets back up a bit for a quick lesson on print heads. On all inkjet printers what actually drops the ink onto the paper is what is called a print head. There are print head cartridges which has the print head attached to the print cartridge and non-print head cartridges where the print head is not part of the cartridge but is housed inside the printer.
This is a sample of a print head cartridge:
(A) Is the electronics where the information from the PC is sent to the print cartridge and tells the print head (B) how much ink and what color ink in color cartridge to fire out of each nozzle. There can be any where from 600 to upwards of 1200 of these microscopic nozzles on a print head.
Here is a sample of a non-print head cartridge, there is no print head on these types of inkjet cartridges, they are basically a tank that holds the ink.
So, in either system the nozzles can become clogged with dried ink usually from not using that print head enough. Leaving an inkjet printer sit to long without using it is deadly, the ink will dry in these nozzles. Is there a way to prevent this? Well, an engineering team from the University of Missouri have devised a clog-preventing inkjet nozzle by taking inspiration from the human eye, no kidding. I love this kind of thinking. As a film of oil keeps a thin layer of tears from evaporating from the eye, the devised nozzle uses a droplet of silicone oil to cover the nozzle opening when not in use. Because the inkjet nozzles are so small and the area that these nozzles are found is in a very restrictive area trying to duplicate the motion of an eyelid moving across the nozzles was out of the questions. What they did was move the oil across the nozzles by an electric field.
Jae Wan Kwon, one of the members of the team put it this way, “The nozzle cover we invented was inspired by the human eye. The eye and an inkjet nozzle have a common problem: they must not be allowed to dry out, while simultaneously, they must open. We used biomimicry, the imitation of nature, to solve human problems.” Most inkjet printer’s will attempt to clear the clogged nozzles by forcing a burst of ink through the nozzles, this is costly and wasteful. Basically the expensive ink that you pay for is used as a cleaning solution! And this method of clearing the nozzles uses a lot ink, think about it, you pay top dollar for your ink cartridges and then they use it as a cleaning solution to clear dried inkjet nozzles, Jae thought, they must be a better way!
You may be wondering why the company’s that make these inkjet cartridges did not think of this or at least hire a team to look into it. the answer is simple, greed again. Epson is notorious for using massive amounts of ink to clear their print heads. It seems unless you are constantly using an Epson printer the print heads are prone to clogging. I’ve had many customers come in to buy a full set of cartridges in an attempt to clear clogged Epson print heads just to come back the next day and tell me that they went through all of the ink trying to clear the head’s! Of course now they have to buy more ink just so that they can print, win win for Epson. If the procedure did not work they now have to make a decision, buy more ink to try again or just say the hell with it, throw the printer away and buy another one. Not very ecologically sound to say the least.
If the technology that Jae is working on works I wonder what the chances are the major printer manufactures will embrace it? My bet is they won’t want anything to do with it, why would they. In the case of non-print head cartridges that uses a system like Epson they would look at it like they would lose money, why help to keep the nozzles open when if they clog they get to sell more ink. In the case of the print head cartridge, there really is no way to clear and open the nozzles, once they are clogged by dry ink, the only real choice is to throw them away and buy new ones, this is a money maker for the large printer manufactures that produce there own cartridges.
Only time will tell if this technology makes it to the general public, who knows maybe the big boys will get a change of heart, maybe they will actually care about the end consumer instead of just profits and do something that will really help them to save money. Oh yea and don’t forget that it would help the environment in that all of the ink would actually be used in these machines which would keep them from the landfill longer. Let’s see what happens.
We would love to hear your comments on this subject.
On Dec. 21, 2012 according to the Mayan calender will reach the of a 394 year cycle called a b’ak’tun which has nothing to do with the end of the world but has sent end of time aficionados into a frenzy. Archaeologists laugh off that doomsday scenario, explaining that the Mayan calendar cycle is no more momentous than our own calendar ticking over from 1999 to 2000. But for those of you who obsess over this, here are 12 way’s that the earth could perish in a blink of an eye, or in some cases a little longer. Continue reading