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How Does 3D Printing Work?

3D printing, commonly known as ‘Additive Manufacture’ is a form of rapid prototyping where models are made layer by layer without the use of moulds.

There are many forms of additive manufacture which all work in slightly different ways, but essentially they all follow the same principals. Each different method has its advantages and drawbacks, whether it be better surface finish, stronger model for working prototypes or full colour models for display models.

What are the basics?

All 3D printers work from the bottom of the model up. The first layer is placed down on the build tray.

Much like an inkjet printer, the machines ‘draws’ out a cross section of the model across the X and Y axis. Once this has been completed, the build tray is lowered (i.e. the model moves down the Z axis) by a fraction of a millimetre and the process of drawing out another layer on the X and Y axis is repeated. This is performed over and over again until the entire model has been built.

Support Material

For any part of the model where there is an overhang or gap between moving parts, a support material is layed down (as it would be impossible to onto thin air!). Look at the example to the left of the PROTOTHAI logo, notice how the support material is printed below any overhanging part, and how there is none above it, a good example is to look at the difference between the letter ‘n’ and the letter ‘u’ – they are the same shape, yet one uses far less support material than the other.

The support material is then removed once the print has finished to reveal the completed item. This can be done by washing, dissolving, breaking or hoovering away depending on the type of 3D printer is used.


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