Stages in 3D printing: from design to finished product

3D printing involves creating a virtual model into a physical object. This blog sheds light on the different stages of 3D printing and explains how a component is transformed from a designer’s idea into a ready-to-use component.

Stages of 3D printing

The focus when describing the stages of 3D printing is often exclusively on the production technique and stages after the 3D model, on which the printing is based, has been created. The most important stage for a successful component, however, is just before the actual printing, especially in industrial 3D printing. For this reason, we have included the needs assessment, design, and optimisation of parts, that is, all the work before the technical implementation, in our list of 3D printing stages.

  1. Mapping the baseline and assessing needs
    First of all, your company needs to find out which existing components or which components to be produced are challenging and/or expensive to produce with traditional methods. It may even be the case that you haven’t been able to achieve the best possible result or been able to make the shapes you want, so you have had to make compromises. 3D printing is perfect for these types of intricate components, and by mapping out your needs for such components, you can determine your real need for 3D printing.
  2. Design and optimisation
    Once you have determined what you need 3D printing for, you can begin designing your components. At this stage, you check the shapes of the components and make a model for 3D printing. You can also optimise the component’s material quantity, rigidity, fluidity, or other property in this stage. You don’t have to stick to a particular shape in 3D printing that was previously made by machining. Optimisation allows you to find the best possible shape for your needs. It’s not about making a shape that is possible; it’s about making one that you want. Indeed, optimisation is a key part of 3D printing and can be used to achieve better efficiency and significant cost savings.

    The outcome of the design is a 3D model. A 3D model can be created either by scanning the desired component as is or by modelling the desired component and shapes with a CAD program. Several different simulation programs are available for optimisation, depending on which property you want to optimise in the component.

  3. Production

    The 3D model created in the design phase is translated into an STL file and exported to the printing program. The component’s support structures, and the correct printing position must be specified before the 3D model can be printed. The entire package is then sliced, meaning the component’s printing layers are determined. After slicing, the final printing file is complete, and production of the component can begin. At 3D Formtech, we utilise laser sintering in 3D printing where a component is made by melting a powdery material, layer by layer.

    When you start printing a component, you should also consider the cost-effectiveness of production. Several different components can be printed simultaneously. They are placed side by side, on top of each other or overlapping as efficiently as possible with a packing program to fill the available space.

    »Watch a video about the Materialise Magics program we use.

  4. Finishing
    After printing, the component is checked to make sure its details and properties are as desired. Final touches may be made to a metal component by machining, shot peening or polishing, for example. A plastic component, in turn, may be dyed or painted. After finishing, the 3D printed component is ready for use. A refined component is high quality and holds up in demanding situations.

Help from 3D printing experts

The actual technical implementation of 3D printing itself is quite simple, even though it does, indeed, require high-quality equipment. You could say that the real cost-effectiveness of 3D printing and the increased efficiency of the components are achieved primarily on the design table.

Needs assessment, designing and optimisation are therefore the stages in 3D printing that companies should invest in the most. Using experts in the field in the designing stage is a good idea to ensure you get the full advantage of the many possibilities 3D printing offers.  Here at 3D Formtech, we are happy to provide you with advice on the designing and planning of the components you would like to print 3D.

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Would you be interested in exploring the potential of 3D printing for your business? Ask us about visiting your company for consultation and mapping out the possibilities. We will help you find applications for 3D printing that will make your business more efficient.