3D printing came to make every designer's dream come true: design a piece using modeling software and materializes it. The process produces solid and three-dimensional objects (as the name says) from a digital project. This production has several advantages and applications, being present not only in our UFRJ Nautilus robots but also in safety equipment in the fight against Covid-19.
How does magic happens?
The first step is to model the part that will be printed. It is possible to create it in 3D modeling software, CAD, or even download a ready-made project on the internet that meets your demand, the most important thing is the object be exported in STL format. This type of resources allows you to idealize different forms and the design variation provided is infinite. Besides that, it is necessary to analyze and edit the file so that the chances of error can be reduced and it becomes printable.
Finally, the project is sliced, through another type of software: the Slicer. The model is sliced into hundreds, or even thousands of layers, then creating printing instructions. Thus, communication between the computer and the printer takes place, mediated by a server that passes the message and allows the settings to be changed while printing is happening.
The idea of a 3D printer goes against that of subtractive production equipment (such as milling machines and CNCs), which the manufacturing is made by removing material from a block. The machine is heated and builds the object in an additive way, depositing layers according to the computer's orientation. The exact amount of material needed for creation is then spent. Thus, the method is more advantageous in relation to saving material. It can also reduce the final cost of the project. This is just one of the benefits of the process.
Furthermore, through this printing it is possible to make prototypes and molds with a high level of details and strokes. Recently companies as Under Armor and Local Motors have printed such elaborated models that they got confused with the final object. This possibility of producing more realistic prototypes increases the predictability of error and allows the product to become available for people to buy faster.
At UFRJ Nautilus, this technology has already been used in two of its robots. The resource has already been applied to manufacture the thrusters, and also to support pieces and the kill switch (safety device responsible for turning the robot off in case of unpredictable events). The method was chosen due to the versatility of the shapes and the low cost of production.
However, applications of printed three-dimensional objects goes beyond robots, sneakers and motorcycles. The method is widely used in the biomedical engineering area due to its precision. Organs, veins and prostheses have already been manufactured using this technology, and they have texture, shape and density similar to real models.
It is noted that due to the wide range of advantages and possibilities that this type of printing provides us, the tendency of it is to be extended and improve over the years. Food, metal and civil construction printing are promises for a not-so-distant future. If this becomes a reality, the revolution and the impact on society provided by these devices will be immeasurable.
Written by Ana Beatriz Ferreira and Douglas Ramos