3D printing also know as additive manufacturing or rapid proto-typing, allows users to create from a digital file a physical three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape.
The printing process uses successive thin layers of material which could be plastic, rubber or metal. A virtual design is made in a CAD file using a 3D modeling program or using a 3D scanner. The scanner makes a 3D digital copy of an object and puts it into a 3D modeling program. Then a 3D printer is used to create the 3D object.
For example, a lightweight plastic filament is fed through the nozzle of the printer, is heated up to its melting point and then extruded onto a build plate surface, hardening upon impact. The process continues, depositing the melted filament layer by layer until a 3-dimensional object is formed.
SLS (selective laser sintering), FDM (fused deposition modeling) & SLA (stereolithograhpy) are the most widely used technologies for 3D printing. Selective laser sintering (SLS) and fused deposition modeling (FDM) use melting or softening material to produce the layers.
3D printing is useful to anyone who requires low-volume custom prototypes. For example, making models for class projects, testing design ideas, creating visual aids, and creating components to incorporate into larger-scale models. The possibilities are endless, limited only to the size of the printer and your imagination.