Is the 3D printing industry safe

3D printing

How does 3D printing work?

The basic principle: additive manufacturing

Basically, 3D printing works on the principle of additive manufacturing, which means the following: In the additive manufacturing process, printing is not carried out in three dimensions, but rather two-dimensional layers are applied one after the other. A three-dimensional CAD file from which the print layers are calculated is the prerequisite for the process. The construction of the 3D object is computer-controlled from one or more liquid or solid materials.

Typical materials for 3D printing are:

  • plastic
  • Synthetic resin
  • Ceramics
  • metal

Visible edges appear when the layers are applied, so the product must be reworked and cleaned by hand. 3D printers are used in industry and research as well as in the home, entertainment and art. There are different printing methods, two common ones for home use are explained in the next paragraph.


Fused Deposition Modeling and Fused Filament Fabrication

The most common method for home use is “Fused Deposition Modeling” (FDM). Molten raw material - usually wire-shaped plastic - is applied in layers through a nozzle until the desired object is created. The nozzle can be moved freely and is controlled by servomotors so that the material can be applied very precisely. The material solidifies when it cools down. The “Fused Filament Fabrication” (FFF) is comparable. Both terms stand for the application of molten material by means of extrusion.


Materials and 3D printers for the home

The material (filament) that is processed is either ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) or the bio-plastic PLA (polyactide acid), which is based on chemically bonded lactic acid molecules.

Features standard ABS:Features of PLA:
Melting temperature:220-250 ° C185-220 ° C
heat resistant:up to 80 ° C, waterproofup to 60 ° C
Operation area:Plastic parts for vehicles, toysItems that are not exposed to high temperatures

The heart of the production is of course the 3D printer. And a lot has happened here recently. Just a few years ago, the devices were exorbitantly expensive and the assembly was only something for real Tekkies. In the meantime, the printers have become considerably cheaper, mainly thanks to expired patents. And the time-consuming installation required to put the printer into operation is increasingly being replaced by user-friendly plug-and-play. Obtaining printers has also become easier: electronics stores such as Conrad, Mediamarkt or Saturn have 3D printers in their range, as does the mail order company Amazon.

For example, at Mediamarkt you can get a 3D printer for home use from 400 euros. You can find software on the Internet as well as tips and instructions for getting started. Even laypeople can now generate data with a 3D scanner and edit them using free CAD software.


3D printing: what is possible?

All sorts of things can be imagined in professional 3D printing today, even the production of food: In a study project, pasta manufacturer Barilla used dough as a raw material for printing new pasta shapes. There was also already a roadworthy car made from 3D individual parts, and in medical technology people are working on organic objects (prostheses). In industry there are high-performance printing systems that process plaster of paris, wood and metal.

These systems for printing metal cost well over a million euros. Plastic cards with magnetic strips and integrated chips are also created using 3D printing. In contrast to these mass products, statues of people as one-offs are more of a special case in industrial three-dimensional printing: Production is too slow because such figures have to be reworked and cleaned by hand after printing. Accordingly, the daily turnover is manageable.


Are there companies that print out 3D models?

The demand for service providers who print out 3D models is growing: both end users and non-industry companies (architectural offices) are increasingly interested in 3D printed objects. You can have your 3D prints created by an open workshop, a so-called FabLab, or you can send your CAD data to online providers who will print them. Alternatively, photos from different perspectives or a webcam and corresponding software replace a CAD file.


Advantages of 3D printing

In industrial applications, 3D printing is becoming increasingly popular, also in terms of the manufacture of series products. This is because it is easier or faster compared to other manufacturing processes:

  • The time-consuming creation of molds required for injection molding is no longer necessary.
  • In general, there is no need to process the original shape, such as cutting, turning and drilling.
  • Energetic advantage: The construction of the material is only necessary once in the required size and mass.
  • Different machines are no longer necessary for different components.
  • 3D printers can create complex geometries and shapes that are difficult or impossible to achieve with other machines.


Is it worth it to become a 3D printing service provider?

The development that is currently taking place on the market is reminiscent of the time when inexpensive inkjet printers conquered private households - and the photos they took with digital cameras were proudly printed out on glossy paper. Only a little later, the first service providers appeared on the scene, offering not only higher quality photos, but also complementary products such as photo books, photo calendars, photo mugs and so on. For those companies that recognized this potential at an early stage and adapted both technology, workflow and sales to it, this market developed into a real gold mine.

Print service providers would do well to observe the technology and possibilities of 3D printing, especially in the hobby segment. After all, if you have been printing out monochrome plastic figures for a while, you may at some point have the desire to receive your own child, cat or a piece of jewelry you have designed yourself from a professional. Just as in the photo area, there are still a lot of product ideas in 3D printing that no one has come up with yet.

Under certain conditions, it should be possible to achieve lucrative margins for print service providers. First of all, the following costs are included in the calculation:

  • Hourly rate of a 3D printing system
  • Creation of a 3D image
  • Calculation of the print data
  • material
  • Post-processing and cleaning

But customer appreciation also plays a role in pricing. This can come from the emotional consideration if private individuals want to have people, pets or personal items as a 3D model, for example. The appreciation also stems from the demands on the model when it depicts spectacular technical objects, has a great rarity value or attracts a lot of attention. In addition, if the customer has large savings through the model, be it in time or money, or thus wins a lucrative order: In these cases, a service provider should be able to achieve lucrative margins.

Potential customers find 3D printers in the B2B area primarily in their own region. It is of interest to their customers that the service provider can deliver from the 3D image to the entire production process from a single source. In the B2C area, the Internet plays a major role for customers. Accordingly, the service providers should use their expertise as online providers when setting up 3D printing.


Professional 3D printing: future, opportunities, markets

Just a look at the Internet shows how much 3D printing has grown in importance: If in 2014 Google received 300 results for the search query “3D printing”, in 2018 there were no less than 417,000 results.

At the PrintCongress 2014, 3D printing was a main topic. Competent speakers showed in lectures and a panel discussion which markets exist today and how they can develop.

For example, Thomas Meurers, managing director of Ring Grafischer Druckrechner GmbH (RGF), explained: “Spare parts don't always have to be made of metal. And if a customer nearby needs something made of plastic quickly, maybe they can help. " Dr. Eric Klemp, Managing Director of Voestalpine Additive Manufacturing Center GmbH, sees 3D printing as an establishing process, but not as competition for injection molding, for example: "3D printing will complement the entire process chain and product range, but not cannibalize it."

Article based on contributions by Martina Reinhardt and Kurt K. Wolf.

First published in 2014, last updated on July 31, 2019.