3D printing (also called additive manufacturing) can be of various processes used to construct a three-dimensional object.
As the term implies – additive processes are used, as opposed to traditional manufacturing processes such as cutting, welding, in which successive layers of material are laid down under computer control.These products can be of almost any shape or geometry, and are produced from a 3D model or other electronic data source. A 3D printer is a form of industrial robot.
In the term’s original sense 3D printing refers to processes that sequentially deposit construction material onto a powder bed with inkjet printer heads. This terminology has expanded to accomodate a wider variety of techniques such as extrusion and laser sintering based processes. Within the industry the term additive manufacturing is more often referred to for this process.
It all starts with making a virtual design of the object you want to create. This virtual design is made in a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file using a 3D modeling program (for the creation of a totally new object) or with the use of a 3D scanner (to copy an existing object). A 3D scanner makes a 3D digital copy of an object. 3d scanners use different technologies to generate a 3d model such as time-of-flight, structured / modulated light, volumetric scanning and many more. Recently, many IT companies like Microsoft and Google enabled their hardware to perform 3d scanning, a great example is Microsoft’s Kinect. This is a clear sign that future hand-held devices like smartphones will have integrated 3d scanners. Digitizing real objects into 3d models will become as easy as taking a picture. Prices of 3d scanners range from very expensive professional industrial devices to cheaper DIY devices anyone can make at home.