Manufacturers have seen various benefits of 3D printing. From reducing production costs by making prototypes much quicker to avoiding large-scale production thereby saving time, 3D printers tremendously benefit company design and manufacturing efforts.
Furthermore, 3D printing allows products to be created on demand, allowing companies to experiment with more designs without significant investment.
What is 3D Printing?
Commonly used in manufacturing and automotive industries, 3D printing is a process which uses computer-aided design (CAD) in order to create objects through a process called the layering method.
The opposite of subtractive manufacturing, 3D printing is a process of additive manufacturing where layers of material, such as plastics, composites, or bio-materials, are built up in order to produce objects that range in shape, size, rigidity, and color, making a part of a 3D object with less material wastage.
3D printing is further great for creating complex and custom-made items, making it ideal for fast prototyping.
How does 3D Printing Work?
To begin the 3D printing process, a digital CAD model of a given design’s part is needed to serve as the instruction model for the printer. A trace of this design is created, helping to add and layer the necessary materials for the given part’s construction.
As stated previously, 3D printing involves an additive manufacturing process using a similar method to a traditional inkjet printer.
This means that the material is dispensed in a similar way in both devices, namely through a precision tool. In the former, however, this dispensed material is used for printing a 3D object through adding hundreds of 2D prints on top of each other, forming the finished product in a way it was exactly envisioned.
Below are some of the primary steps 3D printers take in order to bring designs to life.
3D Modeling Software
The initial step in creating a 3D object is 3D modeling. In order to create this 3D modeling to maximum precision, all of the given designs need to be designed in 3D modeling software.
When a design is too intricate and complex to be manufactured, CAD software is needed, modeling products down to the smallest detail.
Slicing the Model
After creating the model, designers and/or engineers need to slice it. This is because 3D printers are not able to conceptualize the concept of 3D. Therefore, the given models need to be sliced into layers for the 3D printers to create the finished product.
Model slicing software takes scans of each layer of the design’s model. Afterward, these sliced layers are sent to the 3D printer in order to inform the printer on how to recreate the sliced layer and where to fill it, giving the finished 3D product internal lattices and columns in order to shape and strengthen it.
When 3D models and slicing are completed, it is time for the 3D printer to work its magic.
The Materials 3D Printers Use
The printing process of the final product rests on the materials listed below.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)
ABSs are plastic materials that are easy to shape but rigid enough to prevent breakage, such as those used in LEGO products.
Carbon Fiber Filaments
Carbon fiber filaments are used in order to create products that are robust while also being incredibly lightweight.
Conductive filaments are printable materials used for printing electric circuits without wires. They are primarily used in wearable technology.
Flexible filaments create flexible yet robust products. Such materials are mainly used for printing a vast range of products, including wristwatches.
Metal filaments are made of ground metals and polymer glue. They tend to come in brass, steel, bronze, and copper in order to achieve the most authentic look and feel of a metal object.
Wood filaments contain finely ground wood powder mixed with polymer glue. Depending on the printer’s temperature, these filaments are used to print wooden-looking objects, which usually look like light or dark wood.
The 3D printing process takes a few hours for basic prints to days or weeks for larger and more intricate designs.
Three Types of 3D Printers
3D printers come in various shapes and sizes, from desktop equipment to large construction models. There are three types of 3D printers, each using a slightly different method.
Stereolithographic (SLA) printers are equipped with a laser that converts liquid resin into plastic.
Selective laser sintering (SLS) printers consist of a laser in which polymer powder particles are sintered into a solid structure.
Fused deposition modeling (FDM) printers are the most common of the three. These printers release thermoplastic filaments, which are melted through a hot nozzle in order to construct an object through a layering process.
What 3D Printing Produces in the Electronics Manufacturing Sector
3D printing has an exhaustive grasp of the upcoming and innovative products in the electronics manufacturing sector, making multiple kinds of boards that can be connected to prototypes. It involves material jetting technology, streaming conductive and insulating inks onto the printing surface.
The use of material jetting facilitates multi-material 3D printing, which is particularly useful for the electronics industry. This means that the elements necessary in electronics, such as functional circuitry and enclosures, can be manufactured in a single print run.
A vast range of inks is used in order to enable an extensive range of functional printed electronics, from conductors to resistors. Although printed from plastic or metal materials, these electronics are fully operational, containing electrically-conductive metallic and insulating polymeric inks, which are helpful for various devices across multiple industries.
Its primary use, however, is still in the realm of printing electronics for prototypes, prosthetics, or electronic products, which require much more complexity.
3D printers are highly flexible in what they can print. For example, plastic materials can form more rigid, robust products, such as sunglasses or bike handles. Moreover, they can create solid industrial products with metallic powders.
Below are some of the applications that use 3D printing.
Manufacturing & Prototyping
With 3D printing, companies can obtain low-risk, low-cost and fast methods of producing prototypes, allowing them to test a new product’s efficiency and increase development without using expensive models or proprietary tools.
Fully-Functional Electronic Components
Exclusive, patented, or inaccessible parts can now be created and acquired thanks to the functionality and precision of 3D printing, producing a given product on schedule.
Like functional parts, tools can deteriorate and become inaccessible, hard-to-find, or expensive to replace over time.
With 3D printing, highly resilient and utile tools can be quickly produced and replaced across multiple industries and applications.
3D printing is an inexpensive solution to produce models in solid form for design concepts in a three-dimensional space. As 3D printing costs decrease and continue to become more easily accessible, 3D printing is offering new possibilities for modeling applications.
Pros & Cons of 3D Printing in the Electronics Manufacturing Sector
Thanks to software programming, 3D printing can make the manufacturing process of complex parts much more streamlined.
The materials used are another factor contributing to the affordability of 3D printing. For example, 3D printing can create products using easily accessible and low-cost materials, such as plastics and concrete.
3D printing is ideal for the quick prototyping of products because it can be done in-house in small batches. This allows manufacturers to correct errors and make product alterations much quicker than a traditional production process while maintaining the exact manufacturing costs through CAD.
Ability to Work With Speciality Materials
Although plastics and metals are commonly used in the 3D printing industry, many other options still exist. For example, specialty parts and products made with specific materials, like water-absorbing plastic, gold, carbon fiber, and nitinol, allow for high heat resistance, water repellency, and strength.
Lack of Strength
A potential disadvantage to creating a product using a layering method is the effect this process can have on the durability and strength of the object, meaning the power of 3D printing depends on the materials used, whether that’d be metal or concrete, namely some of the most robust materials in 3D printing.
Although CAD is often an easily accessed and accurate design method, there can still be errors. For instance, the guarantee of accuracy with 3D printing depends on the printers’ techniques, meaning that the quality and accuracy of the products may vary as the production process goes on.
Another potential problem posed by 3D printing is the work required to finish a given design. For example, post-processing 3D printed products might include sanding to smooth out an object, removing support struts, and heat treatment, which may sometimes lead to additional costs.
Why 3D Printing is Important for the Electronics Manufacturing Sector and its Future
The flexibility, speed, and precision of 3D printers make them stand out amongst the promising tools for the future of the electronics manufacturing sector.
Today, many 3D printers are used by global companies for prototyping, finishing the entire process in a matter of hours, and with much lower costs both in research and development.
However, their role does not stop there. With their flexibility and adaptability, 3D printers are not only used for prototyping but also for printing finished designs, changing the game in almost every industry.