Anyone who is involved with 3D printing will soon understand the future viability and possibilities it offers. Until now, tinkerers and specialists have usually dealt with it, but development does not stop at “Otto Normal” either.

How about small souvenirs for friends that you can simply design yourself on your PC at home and print your new 3D printer at home? You need a birthday present and simply can’t find the right one in our shop? Maybe the recipient is happy about individually designed biscuits from the 3D printer. The term “self-made” takes on a new dimension and is also something for the unskilled. However this is still future music, which becomes however already audible in the distance. Development is in full swing and can no longer be stopped.

What is a 3D printer?

3D printers are not printers in the classic sense. They describe machines that produce three-dimensional workpieces from different liquid or solid materials. Plastics, metals, ceramics or sand are processed into three-dimensional forms into workpieces. Chuck Hull, an American, invented 3D printing – and thus also the 3D printer – in 1983. In 1986 he applied for a patent and described this technique as stereolithography.

The process is still too complex, too expensive and immature for domestic use. In some cases, printing can still take an extremely long time and, depending on printer quality, is not as perfect as desired. Since the 3D printer offers however both for the industry and for the private range meaningful and exciting possibilities, also here the advancement runs fast forward. Thus the acquisition of a 3D printer will be affordable and interesting for everyone in the near future.

The technology is already so far that also in the low budget range one or the other device for the 3D pressure is offered. For example, instead of a 3D printer, there is a so-called 3D printer kit available for 200 euros or 300 US dollars. As the term “kit” implies, these models are a device that is essentially a 3D printer, but is not sold as a 3D printer, in other words: you have to assemble it first.

How does the 3D printer work?

In industry, besides liquid plastic, powder made of metal or ceramics is used as material for 3D objects to be created. Even sand can be processed into 3D workpieces. After all, the old and valuable glass also consists of melted sand.

In contrast to toner powder, the powder is melted here and then baked together into corresponding shapes. Baking together is the so-called additive manufacturing process.

There are now several processes for the production of a 3D object. For home use, 3D printers that work according to the so-called Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) process are of particular interest.
In FDM, the material is heated up and liquefied so that it can be extruded onto a working platform. The materials are applied in very thin layers. They are hardened layer by layer using a laser beam. The working platform is lowered piece by piece, while the laser continues to work at the same height.

Extruder – the printer cartridge for the 3D printer

The material is heated in the extruder. This enormously important component of any 3D printer heats plastics, metal powder or sand to the desired working temperature. Once liquefied, the further process is roughly similar to that of a printer cartridge in that the extruder injects the liquefied material through fine nozzles onto the working platform and thus prints the object.

An ink jet printer and a 3D printer have another thing in common with regard to their design. Just as the printer cartridge of an inkjet printer is available as single or multiple cartridges, multiple and single extruders are also available for the 3D printer, often using a dual extruder or a single extruder. The single variant is standard for simple home use.

Who benefits from using a 3D printer?

The hotelier and restaurant owner could offer his very own pasta speciality with pasta from the 3D printer, while the confectioner could design his special chocolate creations on the computer and print them out on individual customer request. In these cases, the ink would of course consist of food. They are already working on such an “individual pasta machine”. However, printing the noodles would still take hours – too long for the hungry guest.

The 3D printer for home use

Printing spare parts yourself quickly, e.g. replacing small lost game pieces or broken towel hooks, makes the 3D printer also attractive for home use. Also covers or housings for small technical devices like the Smartphone or Tablet can be printed quickly, comfortably and accurately. Even dolls or model cars as toys for the little ones make the 3D printer a sensible purchase at home.

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