What is 3D Printing?


3D Printed part for stem cell research.

What is 3D Printing:

3D Printing is an additive manufacturing process that, just as its name implies, adds material to form a solid, rather than taking away or subtracting material as in CNC or laser machining. Since 3D Printing is such a different type of process, the technology opens new doors to manufacturing things.

There are several different types of 3D Printing, from the extrusion used in personal desktop printers to stereolithography that was invented by Chuck Hull, the founder of 3D Systems Corporation, in 1983. What 3D Printing has in common with all Digital Fabrication is that a Computer Aided Design or CAD file, tells the printer where to lay down material just as it tells a CNC machine where to cut.

CAD driven additive manufacturing processes are ideally suited to the following scenarios:

Complex Geometries

Complex Geometries

  • Creating Complex Geometries

Because parts are built from the ground up, so to speak, complex geometries that are impossible with traditional manufacturing can be easily created. Internal structures such as lattices are now possible bringing advantages in weight reduction, lower material costs, and aesthetic beauty. These types of parts are driving 3D Printing applications in the Aerospace and Automotive industries where weight reduction translates to fuel consumption savings.

  • Mass Customization

Designs from a CAD file can be quickly and easily modified, meaning that each part can be customized to the end user. This type of mass customization is driving the medical device market, which is currently the largest user of 3D Printers. Prosthesis, orthotics, hearing aids, and surgical guides are just a few examples of how 3D Printing can make parts unique to the individual reducing risk of infection from poor fit, reducing surgical times, and even increasing self-esteem.

  • Rapid Prototyping
    Although 3D Printing has moved to the production mainstream, it is still a great tool for rapid prototyping. Parts can be created overnight, drastically improving turnaround time over traditional manufacturing methods. Plus, no expensive mold or mask is required, reducing costs. Prototypes made by 3D Printing technologies also allow designers and engineers to test new products in an iterative process, ensuring optimal success!
Micro 3D Printing

Micro 3D Printing

Micro-3D Printing

Potomac’s expertise in micro manufacturing extends to additive manufacturing. With our high-resolution 3D Printers we can lay down layers as thin as 16 microns. For medical devices, sensors, microelectronics, intricate jewelry designs, and consumer products, Potomac can create micro-3D Printed parts with high resolution and tight tolerances.

Integrating 3D Printing with Other Digital Fabrication Tools
At Potomac, we have a full range of Digital Fabrication tools and can always choose the right tool for the job. Often, we integrate 3D Printing with other technologies such as Micro CNC or laser micromachining. Knowing which tool is right for a specific job is the hallmark of a professional company with decades of experience.

In addition, our contract services work can take you from prototype to production, and if and when you choose to take production in-house, we will have developed the exact process for your application and can help you select the right 3D Systems printer.

Just send an .stl file and we can get you started exploring the unique possibilities of 3D Printing.