3D printing has become mainstream over the last few years. Some of the earlier printers were either massively expensive or very much an emerging technology that needed a lot of patients and tweaking.
Today there are many 3D printers aimed at the home/small business markets that are very functional and need no or minimal technical input to use.
Why 3D print?
There are two reasons for 3D printers in business like mine:
1. For prototyping housings, brackets, fixtures etc
In the past I would have to spend time in the workshop creating a prototype from wood, metal or other materials to create something that I could base my design on. With limited facilities these were often lower quality than I would like.
With 3D printing I can spend a while in a CAD package and create something that will look good, be dimensionally accurate and function well.
It is possible to design and print parts that would be impossible or very time consuming to manufacture any other way.
2. For small quantity manufacture.
3D printing is ideal for low quantity manufacturing, it saves a lot of tooling or machining costs.
Many of the outdoor counting parts are 3D printed.
What can I print?
Almost anything! There is now a wide range of materials that can be printed, at home plastics, wood, carbon fibre and resin are all possible. Looking into industry there are many other options as well including many metals.
One thing you will need is a 3D CAD package to design the parts. the good news is that these come in a wide range of offerings from horrendously expensive to free.
My weapon of choice is Fusion360 from AutoDESK, it is what I am used to, is reasonably sensibly priced (subscription – boo), or free.
There are other options, TinkerCAD (free), FreeCAD (free), OpenSCAD (free), Solidworks (££), AutoCAD (££) plus many more
Do I need a printer?
Simple answer is no! There are many services that will take your CAD files and print your parts for you.
Huxley Duo £350, 12/2014
First printer brought from RepRap as a kit, crude but with excellent electronics. Worked OK, but not great, quite a few failed prints.
eBay cheapo printer £150, 2017
Surprisingly good for the money. Laser cut plywood frame and basic electronics. Some failed prints.
Huxley electronics + eBay mechanics + E3D hot end + steel frame + Simply3D + many £s, 2017….
A real workhorse, very stable and good quality prints with very few failures.
Prusa mini 09/2020 £250
A great bit of kit, has done more work than all the others combined (100s of prints) with only a handful of failures. The Pursa slicer, profiles and bed levelling works so well, a great upgrade.