The industrial revolution changed the world, allowing people to build things with uniformity and consistency without being a skilled artisan or craftsman. With that, however, the number of artisans and craftsman decreased, and the expectation of the polished look of factory manufacturing became the standard for making things.
With time, making anything that didn’t look obviously “homemade” required either a great deal of skill, artistic talent, or money to have it manufactured in a factory – especially if you wanted to use synthetic materials. If you didn’t have one of those things, it was extremely difficult to create anything that didn’t end up looking like a school project.
As early as 1980, and gaining popularity year after year, 3D printing provides a way to fabricate anything, even a one-off item or design, with a machine, so that it has the precision and polish desired to look high quality and professional without requiring a significant amount of machinery, injection molds, or space.
Unfortunately, for many years, the cost of entry, both monetarily and in technical background, was very high. It was difficult to begin doing 3D printing if you didn’t have a background in 3D modeling and electronics, and because it did not have a huge demand or market, it was too expensive and too unreliable to be a viable solution for hobbyists and general consumers. Even in the mid-2010s, it was a promising and very cool technology, but also very niche.
That is no longer the case. Due to a number of low cost, high quality 3D printer kits, requiring varying degrees of assembly by the end user, released by companies like Creality, Prusa, Anet, Tronxy, Monoprice, and many more, anyone can delve into the world of 3D printing!
Thanks to those early pioneers of the technology, the cost of high quality components has been driven down by demand, a significant amount of software and forums have been developed to allow those who may have a less technical background to still have everything they need to get started, and websites and software like tinkercad.com and Autodesk Fusion 360 allow hobbyists access to simple, robust tools for creating their own 3D models.
Beyond that, the advent of websites like thingiverse.com, myminifactory.com, and others, where users can share their own custom designs and download the designs of others, allows fledgling 3D printing enthusiasts to order a printer, put it together, and start printing on day one without any modeling experience or abilities at all. 3D printers can be used for an endless number of applications, from making a new product, to printing toys, to recreating broken parts of things in order to fix them without duct tape or super glue, to everything in between.
There are many types of 3D printers out there, but the most common among hobbyists, by far, is FDM – Fused Deposition Modeling. In this type of 3D printing, spools of thin plastic called filament, are fed into a heated nozzle, which deposits extremely thin layers on a print bed. Over time, your object is literally built up, layer by layer.
By adjusting temperature, material, speed, layer thickness, support structures, and many more settings, varying levels of quality, both visual and structural, can be achieved.
There is a wide variety of materials available for 3D printing, including PLA, ABS, PETG, nylon, TPA, PVA, and more. Which one should be used is heavily dependent on application. Different materials allow difference in strength, rigidity, thermal resistance, biodegradability, flexibility, finish and more, while different factors, such as stringiness, toxicity of melted materials, print bed adhesion, consistency of layers, and more affect difficulty in printing.
3D printing is the industrial revolution of the home! It allows everyday people to rapidly prototype and build things of their own design and function while maintaining the polish and visual appeal of factory manufacturing.
If you like to make things, or to be on the cutting of technology, the time is now! Get on board! 3D printing isn’t just a niche anymore.