3D printers are incredible tools, but judging only by the triumphs shared online, it might seem that anything is possible. However, 3D printers are rather limiting in many aspects. Because success seems simple and no one shows a loss, individuals may develop skewed perceptions of what is feasible. It isn’t unexpected; misprints and test pieces are heaped just out of sight behind every gleaming 3D print that pushes the bounds of technology.
Whether you’ve ever pondered getting into 3D printing or are curious about what expectations are reasonable, keep reading because I’ll explain where things come from and how to tell if something is a good (or terrible) match for 3D printing. The crucial thing to realize is that printers have limits, and you should have a good knowledge of what those constraints are. Consequently, students will have a better knowledge of what they are capable of doing and what challenges they can dependably address.
LIMITATIONS OF 3D PRINTERS
Lately, I spoke with someone who wanted to know whether a 3D printer might assist them with an issue they were having. Listening to them detail their requirements made me realize I had heard it all before.
In principle, my colleague had an excellent concept of what printers could accomplish. However, they had little understanding of what printers did not accomplish, and this mismatch left them floundering regarding practical applications. To assist bridge this gap, here are some pointers that will offer everyone a basic idea of what 3D printers are incapable of.
THEY DO NOT MAKE OBJECTS CARELESSLY.
Repairing household goods is a typical use. However, 3D printers do not function as photocopiers for objects, nor can they create replacements for missing or damaged items. Currently, there is no practical method to snap a few images of a broken component and have somebody print a new one, nor is there a fast and simple way to duplicate existing things.
If someone needed a replacement component to fix a home device, the procedure would ideally begin with searching for the part online by manufacturer and model number. The user would then be able to download a 3D model of the missing or damaged item and print a replacement with the click of a button. Unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet. There are many 3D models accessible online, but we are still a long way from having libraries of usable components for manufactured items available for download and printing.
3D printers can only generate items from 3D models created using a CAD application. Therefore, a 3D model must be created first since a 3D printer is worthless without one.
MAKING A THING REQUIRES CAD WORK.
If a 3D model of an item does not already exist, one must be constructed. Fortunately, the internet already has many models for helpful gadgets, tools, and trinkets available for download from sites like Thingiverse, PrusaPrinters, MyMiniFactory, and others. These models already exist and, for the most part, are ready for 3D printing.
However, if an item must interact with something else (for example, a replacement component for an appliance), a 3D model for that object is unlikely to exist. It will have to be meticulously constructed from the ground up, and reverse-engineering a mechanical design will need a lot of careful measurement and testing in addition to the CAD effort. Access to the object being repaired and the damaged portion is replaced will almost certainly be required. The task might range from an afternoon’s labor to a multi-day endeavor.
3D scanning methods, such as photogrammetry, may be valuable, but scanning is merely a tool to help with other design work; it does not yet eliminate the need to choose a CAD application and begin creating. Nevertheless, this effort to 3D print a bespoke control panel to fit into a difficult form greatly illustrates how 3D scanning can help with the design process.
SOME THINGS DO NOT PRINT IN 3D.
To print consistently, a 3D model must be built with the strengths and limitations of a 3D printer in mind. Playing to a tool’s strengths is always a good idea, and 3D printers are no exception. However, some forms and component geometries are not readily 3D printed, just as a table saw is not the right instrument for cutting curves.
The two most accessible methods of 3D printing to enthusiasts are filament-based (FDM) and resin-based (SLA). Both function by creating an object layer by layer, beginning with a flat build platform and constructing the foundation of the one before it. As a result, certain items print more readily and dependably than others.
Without much expertise, how can one tell whether an item will be difficult to 3D print? A basic checklist of possibly harmful characteristics is provided below. The more things an object matches on this list, the more likely it will have issues.
- Is there no flat surface to utilize as a basis for the item, or does it have a tiny base compared to the rest of the model? These models are often more difficult to produce than ones with sturdy, flat bases.
- Is the thing very enormous or extremely small? Object size might be a problem, depending on the printer and material.
- Is the model made up of thin walls or delicate details? Thin walls are often weak places.
- Is the model dependent on precise tolerances and dimensions? If this is the case, it may take some trial and mistake to get it perfect.
- Is anything jutting that isn’t properly linked to the rest of the model? The more pieces that protrude, the more difficult it will be to print.
Here is an assessment procedure that is both obvious and straightforward for persons who operate with their hands: Would the thing be simple to construct out of wet sand, like a sandcastle? If that’s the case, it should 3D print perfectly well.
3D PRINTERS ARE AMAZING AS LONG AS YOU FOLLOW THEIR INSTRUCTIONS.
3D printers do not always work perfectly, nor do they function error-free. Running and maintaining a 3D printer is not complicated, but it is a skill that can only be learned by practice. It is possible to harm a printer if it is used improperly. In an ideal world, one would merely click a button and enjoy a margarita as the machine spits out a flawlessly completed component. Unfortunately, this is not the case with 3D printers or other power equipment.
To be clear, 3D printing is the finest things to happen to amateurs in the past decade, and the advantages extend beyond those who build stuff from scratch. For example, printing models for tabletop gaming is a niche that has certainly single-handedly catapulted hobbyist SLA printing to where it is now. As a consequence, hackers all around the globe have enjoyed the advantages, making adding an SLA printer to the workbench simpler than ever.
Success is wonderful, but understanding what 3D printers are incapable of is essential. A thinking hacker will not only be in a better position to assess if purchasing a 3D printer is an excellent idea but will also have a better notion of how many beers that friendly printing favor may be worth.