Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing or rapid prototyping, is the construction of three-dimensional objects by use of materials including plastic, resin, or powder-media. Typically, these materials are added layer by layer using an X, Y, Z plotter through various means of extrusion, fusion, jetting, deposition, sintering, or lamination. Most commonly 3D printers use FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling), while the more expensive technologies utilize processes such as SLS (Select Laser Sintering), SLA (Stereolithography) or DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering). In design for additive manufacturing (DFAM) the integration of CAD (Computer Aided Design) based software and 3D scanning is a necessary part of digital manufacturing and making. Simply put, a model must exist in the digital world prior to becoming a tangible object.
By incorporating a Z axis in the printer, the ability to transcend the boundaries of the two-dimensional realm of X and Y is possible. In other words, you can build up! A key benefit of additive manufacturing is the ability to produce objects with complex geometries that would otherwise be hard, if not impossible to manufacture while maintaining precision and repeatability.
Additive manufacturing has an elaborate history with concepts stemming back to the 1940’s, however it wasn’t until the rise of the computer age in the 1980’s that 3D printing materials and equipment came to fruition, although at the time it was very expensive to own a machine and mostly designated for specialty purposes at large companies. In 1986 commercial rapid prototyping was harnessed when an engineer named Chuck Hull founded 3D Systems in Valencia, California. He coined this concept as “stereolithography” which is presently the most ubiquitous file format (.STL) in 3D printing. Moreover, in 2009 the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) patents expired thus driving competition in the market, and by the 2020’s 3D printing had not only become common but more affordable and the price of entry continues to fall.
Let’s look at some additional perks of additive manufacturing:
-Save on material waste and energy
-Prototyping costs less and quicker to market
-More economical for small batches/ production
-Easier to recreate legacy parts
-Less hands-on inventory needed
-It’s the future (and the present)!
Currently, all of the students enrolled in the IYRS Digital Modeling & Fabrication (DMF) program have an FDM printer at their desks coupled with access to multiple CAD software programs. As a result, students can test and prove ideas with rapid prototyping. Students have quickly taken to these processes and shown off their ingenuity and skill. Recently, in a school-wide project, the students in the DMF program have used their knowledge of additive manufacturing to design and protype some first iteration scale models of benches that will be actualized and installed in front of the Sailing Museum in Newport, Rhode Island.
Having an array of additive manufacturing machines in conjunction with precision cutting tools allows for the students of the DMF program to efficiently pump out prototypes that can be shown to other departments for constructive input and consultation. Students in the DMF program are not only excellent designers but great multitaskers, too. In the midst of the assignments given by the instructor students can be seen working on their own projects, such as designing tools or devices that will aid in a job or hobby, while simultaneously honing their skills. Currently, the students are 3D printing and CNCing (a story for another day) handheld devices that incorporate many of the features seen in today’s device production like a screen, buttons, and a parting seam. This is just the beginning and the class is looking forward to what future challenges will bring!
Tools of the Trade
3D printers are within arms reach of each DMF student, with a variety of larger, more specified printers located throughout the workshop. While the majority of students have a humbler set-up, veteran 3D printers like DMF student, Nate, have two machines and an array of monitors for modeling on CAD software. At any point throughout the day 3D printers can be heard humming along while working diligently creating 3D models layer by layer.
DMF student, Joey, an avid digital artist, brought to reality a concept for a portable handheld drawing tablet. Joey opted to print his CAD 3D model using the Stratasys F170, a more specialized FDM printer. The F170 allows the user to produce fast, effective, prototypes for concept development, as well as highly accurate and robust parts for design validation and functional performance.
Digital Modeling and Fabrication students in front of their bench concepts after presenting them to fellow IYRS departments. As shown, the models have distinct differences but share a common element of creativeness. (From left to right: Harlan, Loc, Nate, Grant, Andrew, Larry, Peggy, Henry, Joey)