3D printing

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
An ORDbot Quantum 3D printer
The video shows, compressed to four minutes, the approximately 30-minute printing of a sphere using fused deposition modeling .
3D printer

The 3D printing (also 3D printing ), also known under the names Additive Manufacturing , Additive Manufacturing (AM), additive manufacturing or rapid technologies , is a comprehensive term for all manufacturing processes in which material is applied layer by layer and thus three-dimensional objects ( workpieces ) are created. The layer-by-layer structure is computer-controlled from one or more liquid or solid materials according to specified dimensions and shapes (see CAD / CAM ). Physical or chemical hardening or melting processes take place during construction . Typical materials for 3D printing are plastics , synthetic resins , ceramics and metals . Meanwhile, carbon and graphite materials have also been developed for 3D printing carbon parts. Although it is often a question of molding processes, no special tools are required for a specific product that have saved the respective geometry of the workpiece (for example casting molds).

3D printers are used in industry, model making and research for the production of models, samples, prototypes , tools , end products and for private use. There are also applications in the home and entertainment sectors, the construction industry, and in the arts and medicine.


These processes are used in the parallel production of very small components in larger quantities, for unique items in jewelry or in medical and dental technology, as well as small series production or individual production of parts with a high geometric complexity, also with additional functional integration.

In contrast to primary forming , reshaping or subtractive manufacturing processes ( cutting ), the profitability of 3D printing increases as the complexity of the component geometry increases and the number of pieces required decreases.

Converting a 3D model into a printable object

In recent years, the areas of application for these manufacturing processes have been expanded to include other fields. 3D printers were initially used primarily for the production of prototypes and models ( rapid prototyping ), then for the production of tools ( rapid tooling ) and finally of finished parts ( rapid manufacturing ), of which only small quantities are required. For example, B. the aircraft manufacturer Boeing in the fighter jet F-18 Hornet 86 laser sintered parts .

In connection with other modern technologies such as reverse engineering , CAD and today's toolmaking processes , the process chain within product development is also referred to as rapid product development . Furthermore, the digital interface of the 3D printer and its automated manufacturing processes enable decentralized production (cloud producing).

Some fundamental advantages over competing manufacturing processes lead to an increasing spread of the technology, also in the series production of parts. Compared to the injection molding process , 3D printing has the advantage that the time-consuming production of molds and changing molds are not necessary. Compared to all material-removing processes such as cutting , turning and drilling , 3D printing has the advantage that there is no additional processing step after the primary shaping. Usually the process is energetically more favorable, especially if the material is built up only once in the required size and mass. As with other automated processes, post-processing is necessary depending on the area of ​​application. Further advantages are that different components can be manufactured on one machine and complex geometries can be generated.

3D printer at the Sagrada Família site for the production of complex models

The most important techniques are laser beam melting and electron beam melting for metals and laser sintering for polymers , ceramics and metals, stereolithography and digital light processing for liquid synthetic resins and polyjet modeling as well as fused layer modeling for plastics and, in some cases, synthetic resins.

The achievable accuracy of a synthetic resin printer at the end of 2012 was 0.043 mm in the x and y directions and 0.016 mm on the z axis. Another strength of 3D printing is the ability to build complex shapes that are difficult or impossible to make with other machines. The Sagrada Família building works , for example, uses 3D printers to create models for Antonio Gaudí's very sophisticated architectural forms . Its vaults consist of large rotating hyperboloids with hyperbolic paraboloids interposed in between .

Combined processes enable the tool-free production of micro components, fluidics and microsystems. Micro- components based on plastics are produced via photopolymerization . Metallic and other functional layers are structured directly and integrated across layers. Electronic components such as processors , storage elements , sensors , passive components and energy storage devices are installed in the stack or laterally and contacted in parallel.

The space company SpaceX of Elon Musk made the combustion chambers of rocket engines of Dragon V2 with 3D printers in Direct Metal Laser Sintering process.

A status report by the VDI-Gesellschaft Produktion und Logistik (GPL) from September 2014 on 3D printing and additive manufacturing processes provides general guidance.

Within the machine class of digital manufacturers , 3D printers represent the most important sub-class of additive, i.e. constructive, manufacturers.


1981 was Chuck Hull , the stereolithography invented, and in 1983 the procedure was first put into practice. The first 3D construction program has been available since 1985. The following year (1986) Hull published the first patent application. The principle of laser sintering was published in 1987 by Carl Deckard (* 1961), University of Texas . The first 3D printer was available for purchase in 1988. In addition, the American S. Scott Crump and his wife Lisa invented fused layer modeling that year . In 1991 the first fused layer modeling system came onto the market. In the year 2000 the Polyjet technology was introduced by the company Objet (today stratasys ). A fused layer modeling printer has been available for home use since 2010. At the same time, the 3D screen printing process has developed from the long-known screen printing.

Classification of manufacturing processes

There are numerous 3D printing technologies on the market that use various materials. Different manufacturers often use different names for similar 3D printing technologies. According to the current draft standard DIN EN ISO / ASTM 52900: 2018, the manufacturing processes are divided into the following categories:

  1. Free jet binding agent application,
  2. Material application with directed energy input,
  3. Material extrusion,
  4. Free jet material application,
  5. powder bed based melting,
  6. Layer lamination and
  7. bath-based photopolymerization

3D printing process

According to VDI 3405, the established additive manufacturing processes include:

Other 3D printing processes are:

Some of these processes - such as build-up welding, cold gas spraying or electrophoretic deposition - are also known in conventional production. However, they can be used as a 3D printing process by controlling them with 3D data in appropriately built systems.

Combined 3D printing processes

Most 3D printing machines only work with one material or a mixture of materials and one printing process. Combined printing processes have already been tried out on a trial basis. Scientists at Cornell University have made the parts for a zinc-air battery from several materials. A similar application is the fuel cell printing of the printing machine manufacturer Thieme GmbH & Co. KG from Teningen , a kind of 3D screen printing with different materials for the production of fuel cells, which, comparable to batteries, are made up of several layers - such as insulating layers and membranes. The extrusion process includes another combined printing process, the fiber composite coextrusion technology from the Luxembourg company Anisoprint. Fibers impregnated with a special polymer, which has a low viscosity in the uncured state, are heated so that the polymers harden and form a solid, stiff substance. These composite fibers treated in this way are drawn through a nozzle together with plastic, so that the plastic connects the fibers with one another.

Multi-component process

At the end of October 2014, Hewlett-Packard presented a 3D printer with Multi Jet Fusion technology. With this 3D printing process, various liquid materials (so-called agents ) are sprayed onto the powder in the build space of the 3D printer . The contoured surfaces - on which the agents were applied - are cured using a heat source. Another agent is used to enable sharp contours.

It is now possible to print plastics in different degrees of hardness and colors simultaneously. In this way, processes can be carried out in one operation where previously several production steps were required. For example, an object can be made shock-resistant in places with rubber-like surfaces.

By means of pressure in two components, of which one, which has only a temporary stapling function, is later loosened by water or blown out of joints as a loose powder, interpenetrating or positively connected, yet rotatable or movable parts can be produced. The surface treatment overlaps with other or similar processes.

Hybrid process

In addition, processes are used in hybrid machines that combine 3D printing processes with cutting processes, for example. This includes machines from DMG Mori and Hermle , which combine laser deposition welding or the metal powder deposition process with milling processes and enable the machining of a workpiece in one clamping . Machining in one set-up means that the workpiece only has to be clamped / fastened once in the machine, even though it is machined with several tools. Every transfer to a different clamping tool can involve the risk that the required accuracy or the permissible tolerances are no longer maintained.

application areas

Speaker housing from 3D printer

A basic distinction must be made between the production of models, prototypes and individual pieces on the one hand and series production on the other:

3D printing is used to produce models, prototypes and individual pieces in the following areas:

  • Art and design
  • Jewelry and fashion
  • architecture
  • Modelling
  • mechanical engineering
  • FabLabs
  • Automobile manufacturing
  • Construction process ( contour crafting )
  • Scientific laboratories
  • Production of spare parts for personal use
  • Craft, e.g. B. Creation of models for metal construction

3D printing is used for series production in the following areas:

  • Aerospace Industry
  • Medical and dental technology
  • Packaging industry
  • Bioprinting


Device for laser sintering

Fused Deposition Modeling, which processes plastics, has been in commercial use since the 1990s. Nowadays, 3D printers that can process metal are becoming more and more interesting. This is mainly due to the fact that it is relatively easy to manufacture components that, due to their complex geometry (e.g. with undercuts or integrated cooling channels), cannot be manufactured using conventional manufacturing processes. In addition, a wide range of metals and alloys can be used for 3D printing. Due to the complexity of the devices with lasers, galvo scanners and special material requirements , the investments are much higher than in plastics processing. In addition to the high costs, there are other hurdles that stand in the way of large-scale industrial use of 3D printers, such as the sometimes still inadequate quality, a lower production speed or a lack of know-how of the companies.

Well-known manufacturers and suppliers in the field of selective laser sintering / selective laser melting are the companies Concept Laser , EOS , SLM Solutions Group ; in the area of binder jetting the company Voxeljet , 3D Systems (the former Z-Corp process has been operating under the name 3D Systems since January 2012). There are also the areas of electron beam melting , stereolithography , digital light processing , polyjet modeling and 3D screen printing .

Military technology

The ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems in Kiel developed with the "ThyssenKrupp Tech Center Additive Manufacturing" in Essen a complex control block for pipelines. Such a well control block from the printer is only half as heavy as from conventional production. The innovative solution is a pioneer in the metal sector and shows the standard of tomorrow's navy.

Home use

Wikipedia globe as a 3D print

3D printers for home users enable the production of objects such as small toys, jewelry or pen cups. Structurally more complex, very resilient objects and perfect curves can only be produced with professional printers. In addition to the properties that are also essential for 2D printers, such as speed and resolution, what is important for 3D printers is what materials can be used and how they are processed. In model making, however, the quality of “cheap printers” often leaves something to be desired.

Ready-made models for 3D printing in the form of CAD files can be downloaded from online exchange platforms such as Thingiverse .

It is also possible to have your object printed out in a FabLab or to upload the CAD file to online services and have your product delivered to your home. 3D scanners to convert objects into data are not always required. Sometimes this works with a simple webcam and special software. Online services are offered that convert an object into a file using photos from different perspectives.

The rules of copyright law apply to 3D printing, especially for patents and utility models as well as for commercial use.

According to a survey carried out by the digital association Bitkom in 2017 , almost every fifth German citizen (18%) has already made or had a 3D print made themselves. Most did this with a service provider (9%). 5 percent printed on their own 3D printer, another 3 percent produced the 3D printing at their workplace. Another study by Durach, Kurpjuweit and Wagner (2017) considers it unlikely that 3D printers will be used extensively at home within the next 10 years. Instead, 3D printing service providers will increasingly establish themselves who carry out 3D printing jobs for both companies and consumers.

The widespread 3D printers for home use (especially RepRap models) mostly use polylactide (PLA) or acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) as a material, which is particularly suitable due to its very easy processability and low price. Therefore, practically all known 3D printers for home use support this type of material. If higher strengths, heat resistance and durability are required compared to PLA, the use of ABS is particularly suitable. However, ABS is more difficult to process than PLA, requires a heated printing plate and has a higher melting point of over 220 ° C.

Metal 3D printing for home use is currently not possible. In addition, patents prevent the development of metal 3D printers based on SLS technology for domestic use.

3D printing and art

The use of 3D printing is also spreading in the art world. Artists use 3D printers to create sculptures, reliefs and other three-dimensional objects. Artists use the technology to create prototypes as well as the finished works of art. Different materials are used here. 3D printing expands the spectrum as the most complex shapes are also possible. The technology sets new standards, since complex manual work can be planned down to the last detail on the digital object and the printer converts this into reality. The artist's work thus focuses on the digital preparatory work on the computer and the post-processing of the object created by the printer, for example as part of a surface treatment and design.

3D printing in scientific laboratories

In biotechnological, chemical and physical laboratories, 3D printing is used to create reaction vessels, measuring equipment and mini-reactors of suitable geometry. For example, stopped-flow chambers and flow reactors are printed for the conversion of very small volumes in the range of a few milliliters. The product that is formed can be partially controlled by the choice of the geometry of the mixing chamber. When 3D printing vessels using fused deposition modeling, it is possible to fill reactants into the inner cavity during 3D printing and thus create closed reaction vessels. By 3D printing objects in the form of the geometry of classic cuvettes and measuring tubes, e.g. For example, for UV / VIS , IR or NMR spectroscopy in a protective gas atmosphere, sensitive reagents can be included and the course of the reaction can be investigated using various routine methods without taking samples. 3D-printed models are also used in scientific training and teaching. The true-to-scale reproduction of reality is of particular interest. For example, true-to-scale molecular models can be used in stereochemical lectures to discuss bond lengths, bond angles and their effect on the molecular structure and reactivity.

3D printing in construction

The idea for use in the construction industry arose from the experience with prefabricated houses. When building a house, robots can use concrete to create the shell.

Standards and guidelines

The VDI has created a whole family of guidelines (VDI 3405) for additive manufacturing processes . Some of the guidelines have already been published by the VDI-Gesellschaft Produktion und Logistik (GPL), such as VDI 3405 Sheet 1.1 for the qualification of powders for the laser sintering of plastic components (polyamide 12 / PA12), VDI 3405 Sheet 2.2 material data sheet for the laser beam melting of components Nickel alloy (Inconel 718) or VDI 3405 Part 2.3 on procedures, methods and relevant parameters for characterizing metal powder. Numerous other guidelines are in the development stage or projects are still being carried out.

The DIN founded on 13 July 2018 the Standards Committee "departmental council Additive Manufacturing" in the DIN Standards Committee Materials Technology to the previous work in international committees of ISO and ASTM International in the field to strengthen Additive Manufacturing. So far, various international standards have been developed that deal with the subject of 3D printing. On November 18, 2019, a guideline for quality-assured processes was created with DIN SPEC 17071, which defines uniform requirements for additive manufacturing. "All quality-relevant points such as the employees, the documentation of the work steps, the infrastructure and the qualification of systems, materials and processes" are included in the analysis. This should also enable small and medium-sized companies to "develop a risk-minimized, industrial production maturity".

File interfaces

3D file formats

The transfer of the 3D models from CAD to 3D printing CAM usually takes place via the STL interface . Since this only depicts information about the geometry representation, other file formats are also used as an alternative to exchange additional information. The VRML and OBJ formats save color information in addition to the geometry. The AMF format defined in the ISO / ASTM 52915 standard goes even further and can map general information such as material properties and also allows curved surfaces to be saved. The most recent common format is the 3MF format, which also stores information in addition to the geometry information. The format defined in the ISO / ASTM 52915-16 standard became known primarily through the introduction of Microsoft in its Windows 8.1 operating system .

Shift file formats

Since the 3D printing processes work in layers, the 3D construction models have to be broken down into cutting contours for the manufacturing process. In addition to a large number of proprietary file formats from different system manufacturers, the two file formats CLI and SLC are used to exchange layer information . In the simplest case, these files can only contain the description of the contours for each layer or, in addition, information on the manufacturing process. This is most pronounced with G-Code , which is used in a special form in the area of fused layer modeling .

Special features of a 3D construction

The design options with regard to the freedom of geometry and the performance of the components (e.g. mechanical load capacity), optionally also expanded to include a lightweight construction approach or functional integration, make it little sense to produce a conventional 1: 1 design using 3D printing. The term "process-oriented design" has established itself here.

Procedural design aims at three core areas:

  • digital geometries with lightweight construction potential, functional integration and higher-quality performance features.
  • digital structures (bionic constructions, selective densities, honeycombs, nodes, grids, etc.).
  • digital materials (new alloys and additives lead to improved material properties).

The starting point is a CAD / CAX construction as part of a digital process chain.

Hybrid approaches are also currently topics of construction. Examples are components that have a conventionally manufactured component (as a cast part or as a machining part) to which a 3D printed component is applied. The conventional component is chosen for a simple geometry in view of time and cost. The 3D printing component is then the more complex geometry (e.g. with integrated coolant channels). One example of this is the QTD series of indexable inserts from Mapal .

Another approach is the hybrid combination of shaped profiles and additively manufactured nodes, for example in the topologically optimized frame structure (space frame) of the "EDAG Light Cocoon" car concept.

The result of process-compliant constructions is not only surprising in appearance. Bionically designed lightweight components can be designed on average 20-30% lighter than milled or cast components. In some cases, the potential weight reduction reaches 60 to 80% when rectangular metal blocks become mere connecting bodies.

It is also important to record the component requirements with regard to thermal and mechanical properties and to develop them with a design specifically tailored to the process. In concrete terms, this means that the parts can not only do more, they are also lighter and have a different geometry.

Through selective densities, components can have the desired elasticity (also partially) (influencing the modulus of elasticity). The force dissipation in the component can be designed in a much more intelligent and application-related manner. Overall, such 3D components are more efficient.

Discourse and Effects

In science, parallel to the technical development and the increasing spread of 3D printing processes, a discussion has begun about the economic and social consequences of this development. Some researchers anticipate radical changes in the economic fabric. These are to be expected , for example, through changes in production processes. In particular, 3D printing enables companies to manufacture their products close to their customers, making supply chains more agile overall. In addition, innovation processes would be significantly accelerated. Some British scientists even see the technology as the basis for a new so-called industrial revolution . Critics of this assumption, such as the mathematician Hartmut Schwandt from the Technical University of Berlin , counter that the process and material costs are significantly higher in individual production than in mass production. For this reason he considers the term “industrial revolution” to be exaggerated.

The publication of free blueprints for printing a weapon in the 3D process by Cody Wilson on a website was criticized . The construction plans had to be removed from the website under pressure from the US Department of Defense on allegations of violating arms export regulations.

According to a study by the Institute for Ecological Economic Research , the possible decentralization trend offers opportunities for sustainability . The study comes to the conclusion that when networks are formed in which users begin to work collaboratively to produce goods, the previously monopolized world of production becomes democratized. However, new protagonists for sustainability are needed who use the new technologies in such a way that they open up social and ecological advantages. The “ maker ” movement, which relies on creativity rather than large factories, could play an important role or a do-it-yourself renaissance.

The possibility of digitally disseminating and reproducing shapes leads to discussions about future solutions for copyright and patent law for 3D objects. Design, architecture and art in particular could be affected. The use of 3D printers as an educational tool is already being tested in some schools. In the UK , for example, several schools were equipped with a 3D printer as part of a test program. After the successful completion of this test phase, the British Education Minister Michael Gove planned further investments of around 500,000 pounds to equip public schools in Great Britain with 3D printers.

In 2015, the German expert commission for research and innovation pointed out that "additive manufacturing can strengthen industrial production" in Germany, "it recommends reviewing the framework conditions for AF and promoting research in this area more systematically than before".

3D printing options

3D printing processes are mainly used when small quantities, a complicated geometry and a high degree of customization are required. Such areas include tool making, aerospace and medical products.

The possibilities and potential of additive 3D manufacturing can be demonstrated using the following topics and examples:

  • Substitution: Classic manufacturing strategies are supplemented by 3D printing processes - decisive factors in the decision are: lot sizes, costs, time and quality requirements or the complexity of the components and functional integration.
  • Complemental description: Classic and 3D printing strategies can be linked, see hybrid construction.
  • Prototype construction: In the aerospace industry, with the small quantities typical of the industry, but high development activity, a 3D printing approach has numerous advantages: test vehicles, engines or metal assemblies are created quickly and without tools. The speed of development increases.
  • Prostheses / implants: In medical technology, 3D printing enables the production of true-to-original models, implants and prostheses. Plastics, metals, minerals and ceramics are used to enable a wide variety of applications, which means that the products also differ in terms of quality and service life.
  • Increase in profitability: In contrast to primary forming, reshaping or subtractive manufacturing processes, i.e. cutting, with 3D printing processes the profitability increases with the increasing complexity of the component geometry.
  • Paradigm shift: The paradigm shift has already taken place in certain industries. For developments in the aerospace industry, 3D printing is the standard for time and cost considerations.
  • On-demand production (decentralized or timed): Decentralized production (cloud producing) and “on demand” production offer numerous advantages in terms of costs and CO₂ emissions. Especially for aviation, it will be possible in the future to manufacture spare parts “on demand” without having to keep tools. This is revolutionizing the logistics concepts in the aviation industry and reducing aircraft overhaul times
  • Manufacturing processes can partly become digital: the dentist scans the teeth with an interoral scanner. This results in CAD raw data that is converted into dental implants in a dental laboratory.
  • Variety and one-off options: Individual product solutions (one-offs), production-on-demand and larger batch sizes are not contradictory. Production-on-demand changes logistics concepts and spare parts stocks.
  • Process risk tends to decrease: The user of a laser melting system has a comparatively process-stable, documentation-capable and validated system, which, thanks to the digital approach, can be expected to have a lower risk of errors compared to conventional processes.
  • Bionics and the changes in construction strategies: The freedom of geometry creates new product ideas. Lightweight construction approaches and bionic structures become possible.
  • Tool-free and informal production by converting the CAD data with the 3D printer.
  • Possibility to manufacture very small structures.

3D printing and occupational safety

Possible emissions from 3D printers and the resulting health hazards for employees have not yet been researched in occupational safety . First results of measurements in the production area and at office-like workplaces show that inhalation exposure to powdery materials can be below the occupational exposure limit values ​​(OEL), provided that dust-reducing measures are taken ( suction at the point of origin, encapsulation). The first results of dust measurements were below a tenth of the general dust limit value.

The investigation into inhalation exposure to hazardous substances in laser beam welding systems showed that the concentration of A-dust and E-dust were only in a few cases above the assessment criteria ( maximum workplace concentration of the German Research Foundation ). Systems for additive manufacturing were examined, in which powdered alloyed steels and various powdery alloys based on nickel , aluminum , titanium and copper were used.

Also in the study of plants for plastics production as well as table-top units with office-type jobs all substances and the concentration of A- and E-dust were normal or below the respective detection limit .

In general, when using 3D printers, care must be taken to ensure adequate ventilation and low-dust work. In addition, 3D printers should be located in a separate room and the maximum permissible heating temperature must be observed. In the case of metal powders, explosion protection must also be observed.

A trend report by the Federal Environment Agency provides an overview of the effects of 3D printing on the environment in general.


In the context of Industry 4.0, the combination of digitization and 3D printing is another milestone that will revolutionize production again.

The most recent development to improve build speeds is the multilaser technique, in which 2, 4 or more laser sources perform the exposure. However, it is not only the purely quantitative approach that is essential for the quality of the component, but also the error rate during production. Various factors play a role here.

To illustrate, a comparison of the build-up rates as expected by the management consultancy Roland Berger in 2013:

  • Year 2013 - 10 cm³ / h
  • Year 2018 - 40 cm³ / h
  • Year 2023 - 80 cm³ / h

As a result of technical progress, batch sizes are increasing and can be manufactured economically. Larger batch sizes are supplemented by the option of individual products in one shot (one shot). The life cycle costs (e.g. for tool provision and maintenance) can decrease through additive manufacturing and the manufacturing processes become safer. Additive manufacturing also reduces production waste and can therefore help manufacturers achieve their sustainability goals.

Digital products compete with analog products. But only if the digital, additively constructed component is better, more powerful, available faster, lighter and / and more cost-effective, the 3D printing option can assert itself on the market.

Complementary procedures

The subsequent technologies in 3D printing processes are used to refine the components.

  • Coating by electroplating
  • Hybridization with other materials (e.g. carbon fibers ) or other semi-finished products (tubes, plates, ...)

See also

The Venus vom Hohlefels is a figure about 35,000 years old. The replica shown here was produced using a stereolithography 3D printer .


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Broadcast reports

Web links

Commons : 3D printer  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

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  14. RMPD photopolymerization process
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