How Does 3D Printing Work?
A simple path from design to print with an FDM printer can be broken down into three steps.
3D Printing starts with a 3D model. Using powerful software, a physical object is created in a 3-Dimensional environment. When you are happy with the size, shape, and overall design of your part(s), an STL (or similar) file is created.
Completed design of a component (part of a bicycle mount).
Slice it! Now the STL file is put into what is called a "slicer". Think of it as slicing a loaf of bread. The program breaks the part down into layers - about as thin as a human hair.
It is at this point that you determine how densely filled you want the part to be (more dense is typically stronger but requires more material to fill the part) as well as how fast you want the printer to run and at what temperature etc. Once everything is set, a toolpath is created and compiled into what is called a "G Code". This is a language that the printer understands and it is what gives the printer its instructions.
The part gets "sliced" into layers.
Okay, once we have a design and we have it sliced up, we load the filament and hit print!
In FDM printers, filament comes in spools, and is fed into the printer like thread into a sewing machine. I won't get into the complex world of materials technology, but let's just say that thermoplastics are getting a lot of cool properties which are providing tons of options for strength, flexibility, temperature resistance etc.
The printer coordinates the movement of 4 or more motors on the X, Y and Z axis as well as the extruder. Layer by layer, the part is printed.
It is pretty amazing to watch a 3D printer work!
The printer follows the "G Code" to build the part.
From an idea to a prototype in a matter of hours!