Understanding 3D printer and 3D scanner technologies

3D printing or additive manufacturing, brings those 3D models you just created with your computer aided design (CAD) module to physical form. The process layers materials, building upon each layer until the object takes a solid form. With the continued evolution over the past 30 years, 3D printing is becoming easier and more inexpensive to use in your everyday life. This additive manufacturing is making it more convenient for small businesses to produce accurate scaled prototypes that can be manufactured for the masses. Also this tech will enhance the possibilities for local on-demand manufacturing of a product, part, or tool which is needed immediately. Along with 3D printers, 3D scanners are making it easier to produce replicas of any object, from animals to buildings, there is nothing you can’t recreate. With this idea of recreating objects many educational institutions, such as the Smithsonian, have begun to 3D scan many of their exhibits, uploading these files to the Internet so that you may download the file and 3D print whatever exhibit you find fascinating. Before you rush out to purchase a 3D printer and or 3D scanner, we shall discuss some of the technologies that are on the market.


3D Printers  

We begin first, with 3D printers and understanding what types of printers there are and what type of material matter they use. There are seven different technologies that make up 3D printing: Material extrusion, vat photo polymerization, material jetting, binder jetting, powder bed fusing, direct energy deposition, and lastly sheet lamination. The most commonly used technology for consumer use, is material extrusion. It is by far the least expensive and most developed of the technologies. Material extrusion uses a process of heating and extruding thermoplastic filaments, layering the material as it builds your object from the base up. We shall now move onto 3D scanner technology.


3D Scanners

3D scanner technology was the largest set back with the advancement of 3D printing. Although that is now changing day by day, and many companies are placing more time and money into research and development of 3D scanners. The two main forms of 3D scanner technologies are short-range laser triangulation and mid-and long range laser pulse-based 3D scanners. Short-range laser technology is going to be the least expensive and is being used to develop handheld scanners. This short-range laser is mostly accurate to about one meter in distance. This laser triangulation often needs less prep time to set up with more movability around an object. However there are some disadvantages to this technology such as the loss of accuracy and resolution. Over all this technology is more user friendly and you will be able to find it at a less expensive price point. Mid and long range laser pulse-based technology uses the speed of light and the return rate to scan objects. This technology has a focal range anywhere from two to one hundred meters allowing you to scan almost anything you wish to make into a 3D mould. There are a few problems, because the laser is so far away from the object the accuracy rate is lower, and this makes for a slower acquisition rate of data, thus taking more time to scan your object.  Also these mid-and long range laser pulse scanners are way more expensive than the other technology.

Now that we have some idea of the technologies that are available for consumer use, we can begin to shop around and find the best printer and scanner that fits our 3D printing needs. You can find many of these 3D printers and 3D scanners here. Feel free to take a look.


3D Scanner and Printer Overview

Vat photo polymerization was the first technology to arise in the 1980s. This process fills a vat with liquid plastics and then solidifies the layers through a heat through either a UV laser or other light sources. Vat photo polymerization is still widely used to produce accurate scaled prototypes worldwide, but it is very expensive due to the material resin it uses. Material jetting is the technological process of layering a spray liquid through a print head and solidifying it through UV light exposure. This spectacular and colourful technology is still very expensive, but with time and development should come down in price. Binder jetting technology is a print head that sprays a glue like substance selectively over consecutive layers of powder. The print heads may also spray colour onto the object allowing for a fine burst of colour. Still this technology is a bit out of reach due to its price point. Powder bed fusion is expensive and very hard to master. The process uses a heat source to selectively join consecutive powder layers. Direct energy deposition technology builds 3D models by heating the building powder as it is deposited into position. The interesting thing about this tech is that it not only has the ability to create new objects but also to completely repair broken tools or objects by fusing them back together.