10 3D Printing Facts You Should Know About

3D printers are increasingly common in both the industry and in households. As such, many people are familiar with basic 3D printing facts and concepts, like how the machines actually create the objects. But there’s a lot more to 3D …

Ile Kauppila

December 1, 2021

3D printers are increasingly common in both the industry and in households. As such, many people are familiar with basic 3D printing facts and concepts, like how the machines actually create the objects.

But there’s a lot more to 3D printing than the basics. With such a wide user base — which is constantly growing — there are most likely many advancements and developments in 3D printing you may not know about.

Here’s a collection of some fascinating 3D printing facts that can help you learn more about the technology — or just provide you with some entertaining trivia.

1) 3D Printing is Older Than You Think

You may think that 3D printing is a modern, futuristic invention. After all, for many of us, our first exposure to anything resembling 3D printing was the replicator from Star Trek: The Next Generation. But did you know that when that series came out in 1987, we already had our first 3D printers?

Chuck Hull, co-founder of 3D Systems, patented the first stereolithography (SLA) process in 1984. Just a year later, Fried Vancraen, the CEO of Materialise, created one of the first FFF 3D printers.

This means 3D printing is older than the World Wide Web — that is, the internet as we know it. It may even be older than you.

First ever 3D Printer invented by Chuck Hull,

2) You Can 3D Print with Almost Anything

Since you’re reading this article, you probably know that you can 3D print with thermoplastics, like with FFF, and resins, like with SLA. You may even be aware of metal 3D printing.

But the amount of 3D printer-compatible materials has absolutely exploded these past few years. You can now print with anything from wax to precious metals (like gold and silver) to wood, concrete, ceramics, or food products.

It really isn’t just marketing hyperbole to say that you can 3D print with practically anything these days. We’ve come a long way, and engineers are constantly developing new materials for our printers.

3) 3D Printing Has Left Planet Earth

Although it’s now common, 3D printing does still seem in many ways like a space-age technology. It’s only fitting, then, that it has actually gone to space.

The Additive Manufacturing Facility on the International Space Station contains an SLA printer that can produce parts in space from thermoplastic and pre-ceramic resins. 3D printing has also gone where no man has gone before — the Perseverance Rover that landed on Mars in February 2021 features 3D printed titanium parts.

Not only that, 3D printed rocket engines regularly take satellites with 3D printed parts to the orbit. It seems that even the sky isn’t the limit when it comes to 3D printing.

4) Healthcare 3D Printing Improves Human Lives

Doctors around the world rely on 3D printers to produce tools that can help their patients. Dental 3D printers, like Formlabs Form 3B, see regular use in dentists’ offices, creating retainers and orthodontics.

Meanwhile, printers that can process medical grade plastics have made prosthetics much cheaper and more available throughout the world, especially in poorer countries. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many 3D printing companies started producing face masks to keep people safe.

But the most mind-blowing medical 3D printing application is the possibility to create human organs. 3D printing skin and blood vessels is nearing clinical trials, and even livers and hearts aren’t too far on the horizon.

Formlabs Form 3 is being increasingly used in dentistry to create crowns, retainers and more.

5) 3D Printers Can Create “Impossible” Objects

We’ve all seen optical illusions of shapes that couldn’t actually exist in three-dimensional space. Well, 3D printers prove that they can — kind of.

Clever 3D modelers have created many printable optical illusions, like Penrose triangles or perpetually right-facing arrows. It might not be quite an Escher staircase, but it shows how complex 3D printable geometries can get.

In the industrial segment, 3D printers can create other kinds of impossible objects — functional parts that simply can’t be produced through traditional manufacturing. These advanced geometries include hollow or latticed structures, spheres within spheres, and complex overhangs.  

6) 3D Printing Can Help Preserve the Environment

3D printing isn’t just a powerful manufacturing method — it can also be good for the environment. Although it may consume more energy during manufacturing, 3D printing allows optimising part performance with advanced geometries. This allows for longer-lasting parts and products, which lower the total environmental footprint.

Not only that, 3D printers can also tackle plastic waste, such as bottles and food packaging. We can shred used plastic into pellets and extrude them into filament to create new 3D printed products.

We saw this in use during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where each of the 98 podiums was 3D printed. With some printers, you can even print directly with the recycled pellets, further lowering energy consumption.

7) You Could Be Living in a 3D Printed House

Building a house is a laborious process. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to just 3D print it? Yes, it would, and that’s why we’re already doing it.

Concrete 3D printing is advancing rapidly and 3D printed houses are popping up around the world. Germany got its first 3D-printed residential building in September 2020, while a Texan 3D printing company has created a series of houses for the homeless.

In the future, 3D printing could also help astronauts on foreign planets. As part of Project Olympus, NASA and its partners are currently exploring the possibility to print astronaut housing on the Moon.  

The future of building: an entire family home, straight from the 3D printer. Source: PERI

8) Hollywood Loves 3D Printers

If you’ve watched any of the latest blockbusters, you’ve probably seen 3D printed props. The fantastic worlds of film often require intricate props. 3D printing is an ideal method for creating them quickly and cheaply.

For example, the Iron Man suit seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was completely 3D printed. The prop designers 3D scanned actor Robert Downey Jr.’s body to ensure the almost skin-tight fit of the famous superhero’s armour.

Practically all other Marvel movies have used 3D printing as well, as did the producers of the 2009 stop-motion animation film Coraline. In the latter case, the producing LAIKA Studio printed 6,333 doll faces to create the animated characters’ expressions.

9) The Nature of 3D Printing is Changing

When 3D printing first hit commercial use, it was admittedly an expensive and cumbersome technology. That’s why for the longest time 3D printing was synonymous with rapid prototyping, or the creation of product test models.

Today, however, technological advancements have completely changed the scene. As the above 3D printing facts show, the technology has progressed from simple, primitive prototypes to industrial viability.

At the moment, 3D printing is ideally suited for small-scale production of intricate parts for mechanically demanding applications. Experts agree that as 3D printers continue to develop, we’re likely to see 3D printing make its way to full-scale mass production.

10) Educators Have Embraced 3D Printers

To take 3D printing to the next level, however, we will need more 3D printing experts in the future. To this end, educators around the world have started implementing it to school programmes and curriculums.

For example, 3D printing in education is a significant part of the UK Additive Manufacturing Strategy 2018-2025. As part of this program, AM UK is working with schools of all levels to bring 3D printers to the classroom.

There’s a good reason to do that, too. Even if the pupils or students wouldn’t become engineers, 3D printing helps them develop their creativity, improves problem-solving skills, and supports general education.

If you enjoyed these 3D printing facts, contact our team at SolidPrint3D to learn more about creative 3D printer applications. Call us on 01926 333 777 or email us at info@solidprint3d.co.uk.

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