For a product to be 3D printed, a design has to be created on the computer by a designer or engineer. The design will then be sent to a 3D printer, and then the intelligent computer on the printer will take all of the dimensions into account when creating the product. There are many forms of 3D printing, but the underlying process goes something like this: a layer of material will be laid down on a build envelope, similar to a table or flat surface within the printer. This layer of material will be a fraction of the diameter of a human hair in most cases. The material will be laid down in accordance to the original computer image. The 3D printer will then lay down an additional layer on top of the initial layer, and it will fuse the layers together in accordance to the design. The layers will be fused by either an adhesive chemical, or through a laser melting process. As hundreds of these miniature layers stack up, a final product will emerge. This product will be designed in accordance to the computer file, and will be to the exact scale designed.
So, in a nutshell, 3D printing is the layer by layer stacking process of material. These materials can consist of thermoplastics, ceramics, metals, or pretty much anything. Precious metals like gold and silver are used in 3D printing, as well as hard metals like titanium or Inconel.
This all sounds flashy, but what can 3D printing actually accomplish? 3D printing has been involved with quite a few industries and has accomplished some significant feats. This technology has helped product developers for decades when it comes down to creating a prototype version, prior to creating thousands of products. This is great for development teams that need to make sure a design is functional. This technology has helped engineering firms across the world through its manufacturing process; being able to create only 1-2 pieces in materials which are incredibly concise for specific purposes is huge! 3D printing has worked in the background with many firms, and it would be something that you would hear NASA doing. It's not too expensive, so plenty of other firms are using it as well.
This technology has impacted the medical industry to a great extent so far. It has been used for prosthetics, and has been used for implants like teeth, crowns, hearing aids, and a full titanium jaw has been created. 3D printing is playing a role in the regeneration of organs and body parts! Although so far only simple parts have been created, like urethras, bladders, and veins, but this could be the future of organ regeneration!
3D printing is even playing a role in the renewable energy business. Xerox has found a way to melt silver at a temperature lower than plastic, so that we can print silver on plastic or film! What does this mean? We have the potential to begin printing circuits, inductors, conductors, etc. This means that we could potentially begin printing paper thin solar panels! The possibilities are endless.