by Gaurav Sharma, digital marketing consultant at CG Trader
3D printing has come a long way since its inception and has made numerous contributions in the field of manufacturing and medicine. While the machine itself is something to marvel, there are a number of elements that make 3D printing possible. For instance, the software used to create 3D models and the materials used to create a physical object using the machine. There are a wide variety of materials used in this technology based on what you’re creating and what you need it for.
So let’s take a look at the most popular 3D printing materials to give you a clear idea of what you should choose depending on how you’re using it:
Metal and metal composites are popularly used to print industrial-grade objects using 3D printers. The process of direct metal 3D printing makes use of metal powders to create industrial metals. Aluminum and cobalt derivatives are among the most popular choices. Chromium, bronze, and stainless steel are also used in industrial 3D printing. More recently, the use of gold and silver has also become popular especially to print something from 3D jewelry models.
Industrial metals are ideal for printing objects with intricate details and complex designs. These various metals and alloys can be used to create functional mechanical parts and prototypes.
They can also be used to create end-use parts and moving and assembled parts. However, metals are not recommended when there are cavities in the design.
There is a wide range of plastics being used in 3D printing. General purpose plastics like ABS and PLA are ideal when you’re starting out with 3D printing. They are affordable and widely available in addition to being durable. You also have several color options to choose from. General purpose plastics are perfect for low-cost prototyping mechanical parts. They are also used for printing toys, adapters, cases, holders, and scale models. The main setback with this type of plastics is that it’s unsuitable for printing intricate designs.
You also have the option to use Rigid Opaque Plastic for creating realistic prototypes. These plastics are suitable for printing designs with intricate details as they can produce high accuracy with a smooth surface finish. They are perfect to create models for sales or exhibitions. However, they cannot be used to print end products due to their sensitivity to UV light.
Another range of plastic 3D printing material is the Rubber-Like Plastic, which enables you to simulate rubber. It can be used to simulate non-slip surfaces on consumer electronics and automotive interiors. Like the Rigid Opaque Plastic this type of plastic is also sensitive to UV light and is not recommended for creating end products.
For medical or scientific visualizations, you have transparent plastic which is one of the clearest materials available for 3D printing. You can also use it to create prototypes for glass consumer products and other see-through parts. Again, this type of plastic is highly sensitive to UV light and is not suitable for end products.
Commonly used in engineering, you also have the Heat Resistant Plastic to simulate the ability of engineering plastics to withstand heat. They are used to create products for hot water and hot air testing along with heat-resistant fixtures. Like the rest, Heat Resistant Plastic is also sensitive to UV light and cannot be used to create end products.
There are two types of nylon popularly used in 3D printing. Fiber-Reinforced Nylon has the same strength as metal but is lighter in weight. This makes it ideal for printing objects and parts that require higher strength-to-weight ratio. You can reinforce the nylon with materials like Kevlar, Caron, and Fiberglass. So you can optimize the printed object for strength, weight, and stiffness as well as temperature resistance. The only drawback to this material is its inability to print small parts with intricate details.
The other type of nylon used in 3D printing is SLS nylon, which is strong and also slightly flexible. The material’s easy design rules make for creating objects with complex designs and functional end products. While the surface is somewhat grainy after print, it can be polished to create a smooth finish. Like metals, SLS nylon isn’t suitable for printing parts with cavities within the design.
In addition to these popular materials, you have several more options to use in 3D printing. Ceramics, for instance, have been recently introduced in 3D printing but also require undergoing the same processes of firing and glazing post print as conventional ceramic products.Numerous developments are being made in the use of bio materials for 3D printing, which could be applied mostly in the field of medicine. Researchers continue to work on 3D printing living tissue, which can be used to print human organs suitable for transplant. Some have even managed to successfully print skin cells onto burn wounds.
As you can see, there is a wide scope of application of 3D printing in research and manufacturing. This has significantly impacted the way companies produce and create end-user products. In other words, 3D printing is changing the way we do business and can be defined as a driver of business and manufacturing.
Gaurav Sharma is a digital marketing consultant at CG Trader, a 3D Model Marketplace, Founder of Digital Marketing Blog Attrock and a technology lover. He has been featured on Techcrunch, Search Engine Land and any popular Tech and Marketing blogs. You can check him out on Instagram, Twitter and Google+.