3D Printing

About 3D printing

3D printing is the creation of a 3D object from a digital file. Successive layers of a melted material are added according to the digital design until the object is created. Each layer is a thinly sliced horizontal cross section of the final object.

The process starts with 3D modelling. You can start with a free 3D
Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software such as TinkerCAD.
TinkerCAD is browser-based so no installation is needed. After you
have designed a model, you need a slicing software to divide
the design into the many thin layers. There are free 3D slicing
software such as Slic3r and CURA or paid slicers like Simplify3D.
These software output into the G-code file format which 3D printers
understand. There are also free 3D models contributed
by people online, such as Thingiverse. You can download 3D models that
you like and use TinkerCAD to modify them.

You can use different materials for printing. The most common is PLA
or Polylactic Acid, a type of plastic biodegradable
material from renewable sources. Other materials include ABS, PETG,
TPU and composite materials such as carbon fiber.
They come in the form of a thin filament wound on a spool.

Things to note about 3D printing for beginners: 

• An entry level 3D printer is around S$200 and some industrial ones can cost tens or even hundreds of thousand dollars. Some come already assembled but many entry level ones require self-assembly and it takes some skill and practice to do so.

• The cost of 3D filaments depend on the type of materials. A kilogram of PLA generally cost around S$25. A small 3D-printed object uses less than $1 of the filament. Hence, 3D printing is very affordable.

• The surface area and the maximum reachable height will determine
the size of the 3D object you can print. For larger objects, you can design them to be printed in parts to be combined together by other means.

• There are many ways a 3D print can fail. Sometimes the print surface is not levelled, resulting in prints becoming warped. There could be errors in the design or splicing process. Some designs are not possible to be printed especially as one layer has to be printed over another and if the bottom layer is not structured strongly enough to support the new layer, the print cannot be done. Once a print
fails midway, the whole print usually has to be stopped and discarded.

• 3D printing technology today is quite slow, mainly because the process requires materials to be melted and then printed layer by layer, being cooled as materials are ejected out to form the desired design. Printing a 12 cm-tall 3D dog can take around 15 hours. So one needs patience in 3D printing.

• Most basic printers only allow one filament to be loaded, so the
print will be in a single colour. It is possible to design such that the print will pause at a certain stage and one can manually change the filament to print a different colour. It does take patience to be there to physically change the filament.

Written by Harel Yee. Harel started 3D printing as a hobby after his
A-levels and has since designed, printed and sold over a thousand 3D prints in one year. He has also assembled and sold 10 printers.

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