Additive Manufacturing Process Chain

From CAD description to physical part, Additive Manufacturing (AM) involves several steps. The process will vary depending on the product. It is likely that smaller, simpler products make use of 3D Printing only for visualization purposes, whereas larger, more complex products may incorporate 3D Printing at multiple stages and iterations throughout the development process. This page highlights the generic 3D Printing process chain with the applicable resources at each section. 

Model File Creation / Generation

There are three options for obtaining, creating and saving model files in compatible .STL, .AMF and .3MF formats:

1) Download a file from one of many of the online Databases,

2) Use of commercially

available 3D modeling software, such as FUSION 360, SOLIDWORKS, Tinkercad, etc. and

3) Use of a 3D scanner to convert an object’s physical profile into a digital solid state.

1. Download a file from online database

There are many different 3D model directories and databases available online. Some are free to download and use and some are paid subscription or pay per model sites. Here are some of the sites where you can download 3D models for 3D printing or to add into your own design. 

2. Use of commercially available modelling software

There are also many different 3D modelling software available. Some are free to use online, others are free for students to use, and there are also ones that charge once off fees or are subscription based. Here are some of the software brands and products for computer aided design (CAD) modelling. 

3. Use of a 3D Scanner to digitise a physical object

3D scanning and scanner technology are growing rapidly with many new systems hitting the market. Not all scanners or scanning software are created equally. There can be a steep learning curve when trying to scan objects and reverse engineer or process the scan so that it can be used for the 3D printing process. We have listed some of the brands here but there are many more. Just be careful as there is no real scanner than can go from scan to print right out of the box. 

File Preparation

Software is used to fix the 3D model file for errors and to slice the solid model into 2D layered information.

There are many different slicing software available for different machines. Some can be used to slice for different brands of machines and some are specific to a certain brand of machine.

Slicing is done because a 3D printer cannot process 3D information.

File Slicing Software

The slicer is an instrumental software required in order to convert a 3D model into something that the printer can use to create the 3D part. A 3D printing slicer software acts as the middleman between the 3D model and printer.

For those who don’t know, usually a 3D printing slicer prepares a 3D model for your 3D printer by generating G-code, a widely used numerical control (NC) programming language. In some instances it only creates the 2 dimensional slices of the part in order for the printer software to add in the fill and contour vectors. 

Parts Printing

“Sliced” 2D information is transferred to the printer, and the parts are printed layer-by-layer until a complete part is made. 

There are many different types of Additive Manufacturing technologies such as Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF), Electron Beam Melting (EBM), Laser Metal Deposition (LMD), and Binder Jetting (BJ). Each technology has it’s strengths and limitations so it is important to understand them to see if they fit best for your applications. 

Plastic/polymer Printer Manufacturers

There are various types of Additive Manufacturing technologies that can process polymers and plastics. Some have limitations to the manufacturer’s material and some are open material platforms. We have listed some of them but will continue to update the list. 

Metal Printer Manufacturers

Just as with plastic printers there are many different metal Additive Manufacturing technologies. Each have their own advantages and disadvantages and some are best suited for Africa while others are not.

Post Processing

Parts produced by the 3D printer that are not yet suitable for use in their final application(s) may require additional finishing or enhancements, 

There are many different types of post processing methods such as sanding, milling, grinding, polishing, or heat treatment.

Post Processing Operations

Post processing operations are vast and complex in some instances. We will be adding sections on different post processing operations for different technologies in a structured format. Stay tuned…

Learn More about Additive Manufacturing

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