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What is 3D Printing?

3D printing is a subset of additive manufacturing.

Additive manufacturing is where a part is made by adding material, whereas the subtractive manufacturing process is where a part is made by subtracting material. In 3D printing, a 3D printer makes a three-dimensional object from a CAD (computer-aided design) file. There are a variety of materials and 3D printing technologies available, making it easier than ever to create parts for all sorts of industries.

Plenty of people assume 3D printers are a new technology, though you may be surprised to know they’ve been around since the 1980s. However, printers up until 2009 were mostly used for industrial purposes, and were prohibitively expensive to use for most. Nowadays, businesses around the world are able to utilize 3D printers to produce parts for manufacturing purposes with improvements to 3D printing costs.

How to 3D Print

3D printing is a relatively simple, highly automated process.

1. Start with a CAD file. A CAD file, or computer aided design file, can be created by CAD software like Solidworks, Autodesk Fusion, Onshape, ANSYS, or many others.

2. Exported the file from CAD as an STL file, the universal input file type of 3D printers.

3. After exporting the part, upload the STL file to your printer's slicing software. For Markforged printers, this software is called Eiger.

4. Once the part is uploaded it, orient the part to their liking, select material and other print settings, and let the software automatically process your part. The software slices the file into layers and determines tool paths for each layer.

5. After the part is sliced, press print. The part is printed layer-by-layer. Different technologies and materials control how thick you can make your part, surface finish, and durability of the finished part, while part size controls print time.

Uses of 3D Printing

While 3D printing has often been linked to toys and hobbyist items, they are more than capable of producing parts that can withstand a multitude of heavy duty environments.

You can find 3D printed parts being used in industries such as manufacturing, energy, and automotive. From functional prototypes, tools and fixtures to end-user parts, the 3D printing industry is revolutionizing several other industries and processes.