3D printing or additive manufacturing is the construction of a three-dimensional object from a CAD model or a digital 3D model. It can be done in a variety of processes in which material is deposited, joined or solidified under computer control, with material being added together (such as plastics, liquids or powder grains being fused), typically layer by layer.
In the 1980s, 3D printing techniques were considered suitable only for the production of functional or aesthetic prototypes, and a more appropriate term for it at the time was rapid prototyping. As of 2019, the precision, repeatability, and material range of 3D printing have increased to the point that some 3D printing processes are considered viable as an industrial-production technology, whereby the term additive manufacturing can be used synonymously with 3D printing. One of the key advantages of 3D printing is the ability to produce very complex shapes or geometries that would be otherwise infeasible to construct by hand, including hollow parts or parts with internal truss structures to reduce weight. Fused deposition modeling (FDM), which uses a continuous filament of a thermoplastic material, is the most common 3D printing process in use as of 2020.
Benefits of 3D printing
Additive manufacturing or 3D printing has rapidly gained importance in the field of engineering due to its many benefits. Some of these benefits include enabling faster prototyping, reducing manufacturing costs, increasing product customization, and improving product quality.
Furthermore, the capabilities of 3D printing have extended beyond traditional manufacturing, with applications in renewable energy systems. 3D printing technology can be used to produce battery energy storage systems, which are essential for sustainable energy generation and distribution.
Another benefit of 3D printing is the technology's ability to produce complex geometries with high precision and accuracy. This is particularly relevant in the field of microwave engineering, where 3D printing can be used to produce components with unique properties that are difficult to achieve using traditional manufacturing methods.
Traditionally, 3D printing focused on polymers for printing, due to the ease of manufacturing and handling polymeric materials. However, the method has rapidly evolved to not only print various polymers but also metals and ceramics, making 3D printing a versatile option for manufacturing. Layer-by-layer fabrication of three-dimensional physical models is a modern concept that "stems from the ever-growing CAD industry, more specifically the solid modeling side of CAD. Before solid modeling was introduced in the late 1980s, three-dimensional models were created with wire frames and surfaces. Βut in all cases the layers of materials are controlled by the printer and the material properties. The three-dimensional material layer is controlled by deposition rate as set by the printer operator and stored in a computer file. The earliest printed patented material was a Hot melt type ink for printing patterns using a heated metal alloy.