What is 3D Printing?
3D printing or additive manufacturing as we know it began to come into being in the 1980s. 3D printing specifically refers to the process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. Each object is created by laying down successive layers of material (essentially, printing them) until the entire object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object.
How does it work?
It all starts with making a virtual design of the object you want to create. This virtual design is made in a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file using a 3D modeling program or with the use of a 3D scanner when copying an existing object. The scanner makes a 3D digital copy of an object and puts it into a 3D modeling program. To prepare the digital file created in a 3D modeling program for printing, the software slices the final model into hundreds or even thousands of horizontal layers. This file is uploaded in the 3D printer and the printer creates the object layer by layer. The 3D printer reads every slice (2D image) and proceeds to create an object, blending each layer together.
Not all 3D printers use the same technology to realize their objects. There are several ways to do it. All those available as of 2012 were additive, differing mainly in the way layers are built to create the final object. Some methods use melting or softening material to produce the layers. The most common technology using this method is called stereolithography (SLA). This technology uses a powerful laser to fuse small particles of plastic, metal, ceramic or glass powders into a three dimensional shape. The laser selectively fuses the powdered material by scanning the cross-sections generated by the modeling program on the surface of a powder bed.
Why do we need it?
Konica Minolta recently announced that they plan on becoming the first original equipment manufacturer in the United States to offer 3D printing solutions through the traditional printer and office equipment sales channels. They are entering the market because they expect that the 3D printer market will experience tremendous unit and revenue growth before 2017. Indeed, 3D printing is quickly moving from a curiosity niche to mainstream adoption. 3D printing aligns well with commercial printing and manufacturing and everyday printing, too. Imagine if some equipment in your home or office broke and you were able to repair it right there with a 3D printer! With Konica delivering 3D solutions within their existing infrastructure, the entire mainstream adoption process is streamlined. We think 3D printing will truly change how we consume digital imaging and we look forward to what is to come!