From how 3D printing works to the best 3D printers, where to find the latest FREE 3D models and even money making business ideas. Here is were you will find 17 thing you need to know about 3D printing in the UK today!
What is 3D printing?
A process to make a 3D object by forming material in an additive way.
This is achieved by taking a digital 3D design or 3D scan of an object and translating them into layers which the printer then builds up to create the final item
This process is explained in more detail in How does 3D printing work?
Advantages of this technique include rapid prototyping, the ability to make complex parts as one piece, reduced material and energy use.
During 2019 3D printing related sales by large public companies are predicted to exceed *£2.1 billion rising to *£2.4 billion in 2020. *Deloitte.
Below is a list of areas with some examples of how 3D printing has been implemented.
Applications for 3D printing:
- Medical Devices-Prosthetics, Hearing Aids.
- Dental-Crowns, Aligners.
- Surgery-Implants, Guides, Prosthesis.
- Bioengineering-Bioprinting tissues and Biological structures
- Pharmaceutical manufacturing-Medicines, Personalized drugs, Polypills.
- Anatomical models-Surgical planning, Model fetus.
Industry and business:
- Manufactoring-Production line tooling, On demand replacement parts and development (See video below).
- Mass customization-Made to order services, Personalized products.
- Food-Edible chocolate, Burgers, Pizza, Food molds.
- Automotive-Rapid prototyping, parts for rare and classic cars
- Construction-Housing, Bridges, Restoration.
- Tools-Bespoke tool design.
- Aerospace-Defence, Research and development, reduction of parts and weight.
- Architecture-lower cost and faster model creation.
Fashion and Art:
- Clothes-Jackets, Skirts.
- Shoes-Shoes, soles.
- Film-Costumes and Props.
- Jewellery-Create complex designs for casting.
- Musical Instruments–3Dvarius violin, flute, trombone and more.
- Photography-lithophanes, Photogrammentry
- Sculpting-Ceramics (See video below)
Education and Domestic:
- Museums-Reproduction of Historic artifacts, Cultural Preservation.
- Schools-Help students conceptualize ideas, Tactile teachable’s.
- Home-Create useful and beautiful items for the home, Repair household items.
- Hobby-Modelling, Figurines, Robotics.
How Does 3D Printing work?
Unlike many traditional manufacturing techniques such as CNC milling which remove material to create an object, 3D printing works by adding materials also known as Additive Manufacturing (AM).
This process is carried out by joining or solidifying a material to build up layers to form an object.
Firstly, a digital file such as an STL which contains the 3D model is processed into layers by slicing at a determined resolution or layer height. Other settings such as speed and infill percentage are also set at this stage to create a print profile.
This print profile is then exported to the printer as a code and interpreted as x,y and z axis movements.
There are seven other main categories of 3D printing type, the first two are the most affordable and popular types.
Also know as Fused Filament Fabrication or Fused Deposition Modeling the later being trademarked by Stratasys in the United States.
This type employs an extruder which feeds a continuous filament through the print head nozzle or hotend.
The print head extrudes the x and y layers before moving the z axis to preform the next layer. Depending on the design, orientation and filament used temporary support structures may be required.
Below you can see 1 – nozzle ejecting molten material, 2 – deposited material, 3 – controlled x, y and z axis.
Within this category are two different technologies, Stereolithography (SLA) and Digital Light Processing (DLP).
SLA and DLP printing employ a controlled light source to cure (photoplymerization) a liquid resin into shape.
SLA is laser based, using a single beam aimed at the resin to be solidified on the build plate. Similar to FFF, the laser beam is rapidly aimed to solidify the x and y lines before the build plate is re positioned for the next layer.
Similarly DLP implements the pixels of a digital projection screen to flash an image onto the build plate, solidifying the exposed resin for the entire layer. This gives DLP a faster print time, but due to the nature of using square pixels the final print can exhibit visible vertical lines on the finished surface called voxels.
In addition, other categories of 3D printing include Powder Bed, laminated, powder fed and wire.
3D printers generally fall into three sectors; consumer, prosumer and commercial/industrial grade.
Key considerations when looking to purchase a 3D printer should be:
Do you need a 3D printer?
3D printing is a great technology, but does have a steep learning curve and will require a significant investment of your time as well as your money. If you only require occasional use of a printer it might be worth considering using a 3D printing service.
Above all, entry level FFF printers are the most accessible with a wide choice of manufactures available in the UK and prices starting from under £200. Professional FFF printers range from about £700 up to £6000+ for commercial.
However in recent years SLA and DLP resin printers have become more affordable starting around £300.
See more about printer prices for the home and other costs below.
Kit vs ready assembled
You might be considering a kit sometimes called part assembled, but its worth checking the level of support provided by the manufacture, warranties and quality of the components. In addition these kits are sometimes supplied with exposed power supplies which pose a potential hazard if handled incorrectly.
Furthermore, if you purchase a ready assembled printer from a UK retailer you will have more consumer protection to fall back on if things go wrong.
Is measured by the x, y and z axis to give its build volume. The greater the build volume the bigger you can print, and the more you can print at one time.
Auto bed LEVELING
Ensuring a level print bed is important to maintain an equal distance between the print nozzle and the bed surface. Above all this is can be the source of many printing issues if not setup correctly.
Additionally, printers with auto bed leveling use a sensor to calibrate the distance and makes software adjustments to the z axis to compensate for any inaccuracies.
This can save a lot of time and faffing about especially if you are new to 3D printing.
Extra features TO CONSIDER
- Frame construction
- Auto Calibration
- Monitoring camera
- Included software
- Incorporated enclosure
- Auto restart
- Removable build plate
- Safety features
- Built in filters
- Live tuning
- Touch Screen
3D printers available in the UK today
Fused FILAMENT FABRICATION (FFF)
- Ultimaker Original DIY kit On sale for £499.00 from UK resller 3dgbire.
- Original Prusa i3 MK3S kit From £699.00
dIGITAL LIGHT PROCESSING (DLP)
- Formlab Form 2 From £2880.00
All prices found at the time of writing, with the ability to ship to the UK.
Where to buy
Certainty, for the greatest level of support purchasing from a reputable local shop would be recommended. Some manufactures sell directly such as Prusa. However other manufactures sell through preferred re-sellers, this information can usually be found on their website.
Amazon.co.uk can be a great source for finding the latest models at very competitive prices.
Be particularly cautious of buying kits from suppliers outside of the UK as these do not necessarily have to meet the same standards of assembled products sold in the UK.
Read reviews, check out the seller and take your time.
3D printer prices for the home
As you can see above 3D printers vary greatly in price. For example, a assembled entry-level FFF 3D printer for the home can be had for as little as £118.66 Plus UK delivery.
According to https://pricespy.co.uk XYZprinting da Vinci Nano was retailing for £165.60 at the beginning of 2019. That is a fall of more than 25% over a six month period.
The same printer can be found on Amazon.co.uk for even less, although was temporarily out of stock at the time of writing.
Because the development of this technology is rapidly improving, prices of older models are dropping. This is also increasing the amount of 3D printers available on the second hand market in the UK.
During May 2019 on a local classifieds website I found an Original Prusa i3 MK2.5S for £225 including 4 rolls of filament!
With prices dropping below £200.00, now is a great time to start thinking about purchasing your first 3D printer for the home.
Beside the initial outlay for a 3D printer there will be additional expenses along the way.
These include, running Costs, energy use, material cost, maintenance, tools, personal protective equipment and consumables such as paper towels and propranol alcohol.
Check out this handy printer cost calculator, for your own use just leave cost per hour and mark up empty.
What 3D Printing Materials are available?
FFF filaments come as a continuous feed stock supplied on a drum sold by weight or length.
Resins are a liquid sold in containers by volume. Both vary in quality and consistency depending on the manufacture, and come in a range of colours.
Its important to be aware that particular storage requirements may be necessary.
Below is a list of available materials, filaments for FFF/FDM printers and resins for SLA/DLP UV sensitive resin based printers:
- PLA-Polylactic Acid
- ABS-Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene
- PET-Polyethylene terephthalate
- PETG-Polyethylene terephthalate Glycol – Fiberlogy PET-G Review
- HIPS-High Impact Polystyrene
- ASA-Acrylic Styrene Acrylonitrile
- TPE/TPU-Thermoplastic Elastomers/Thermoplastic polyurethane(Flexible)
- PVA-Polyvinyl Alcohol(Soluble)
- Glow in the Dark
- Metal filled
- Magnetic metal filled
- Wood filled
- Carbon Fibre
- Heat Resistance
- Glass Reinforced
- Ceramic reinforced
- High detail
Where to find the best paid and free 3D Models
There are millions of 3D printable models available to download, yeggi a model search engine returned over 2 million results on 19/8/19.
With so many 3D models over different marketplaces and communities using a search engine can be useful and time saving.
Find some great sources for free and paid 3D models to download here:
3D model Search engines
Marketplaces and repositories
Take a look at this FREE BMW model of their latest concept car!
3D printing Software tools
3D modeling is achieved with computer animated design CAD software and exported as one of several different file formats, the 2 most common are STL and OBJ.
Once a 3D model has been created or downloaded, firstly it will need to be prepared to export to your printer. This is achieved by importing your CAD model file e.g STL into the slicing software. Secondly, the file is then sliced into layers, and other settings such as speed, infill, supports and temperature are calculated.
Finally, the model is now ready to be exported as a G-code to the printer.
Additionally, there are also tools for rendering meshes and repairing files.
Slicing and Processing software
Looking for something different?
Turn photos into lithosphanes,3D print google maps including topography and buildings or recreate real world objects using photos!
- Turn an image into a lithophane.
- Instant CAD maps for any location on earth.
- Create STL terrain models.
- Random shape generator.
- Generate random design and service ideas.
3D printing safety precautions
Additive manufacturing is increasingly finding its place in schools, businesses and the home. Potential hazards to health and safety can arise from the 3D printing process. We will look at some hazards relating to desktop FFF printers and measures that can be taken to help reduce the risks of injury and adverse health effects
|High temperatures |
such as the hotend
and heated bed
|Burns||Allow sufficient time |
for the printer to cool before removing
Signs and barriers,
Hotend sock, Gloves
|Removing support |
|Eye injury||Wear safety eye |
|Handling support |
material and prints
|Cuts||Wear gloves, remove sharp parts by filing and deburring|
|Exposed terminals |
|Contain exposed |
conductive parts within a suitable
Check for wear and
damage to cables
before powering on
|Heating and |
|Breathing vapor and |
|Use in a well|
extraction and filter
|Moving Parts||Pinching or trapping |
|Not coming into |
contact when the
printer is operating.
|Exposed high |
|Fire||Not leaving the |
Fire detection –
a fireproof enclosure. Local fire
suppression, such as a fire extinguisher
Similarly, considerations such as printing items to be used with food should be ‘food safe’, and reliability of safety critical parts need be taken into account. For commercial applications carrying out a risk assessment would be highly recommended.
Further precautions should be considered for resin based printers.
For more information on measuring and controlling emissions from filament printers check out this in depth 70 page document prepared by the UK health and safety executive here.
Essential 3D printer tools, equipment and consumables
Take the stress out with these must have items to include in your 3d printing tool kit:
- Heat Gun
- Hobby knifes
- Needle nose Pilers
- Wire cutters/Snips
- Alan Keys
- Spanners/Adjustable wrench
- Soldering iron
- Permanent marker
- Die grinder e.g dremel
- Stiff brush
- Laser Thermometer
- Safety Glasses
- Uninterrupted Power Supply
- Monitoring camera
- Remote Switching
- Air tight containers and desiccant for filament
- Convection Oven
- UV Curing Lights
- Ultrasonic cleaner
- Filter Paper
- Smoke alarm
- Fire Extinguisher
- IPA–Isopropanol Alcohol (high purity ideally >96%)
- Paper towels
- Masking tape
- glue stick
- Hair Spray
- Abrasive paper – Sandpaper/emery paper
3D Printing Hardware
Some designs may benefit from being assemble with non printed fixings and fasteners. Here are some hardware ideas that could be incorporated into 3D printed models.
- Heat-set threaded inserts
- Screw-to-expand inserts
- Embedded Nut
- Nylon-lock Bolts
- Wing nuts
- Self-tapping screws
- Grub screws
- Lock washer
- Threaded rod
- Split pins
- Nylon fixings
- Rubber feet
- Rubber washers
What is a 3D Printing Service?
You do not need a 3D printer to turn your model into reality. If you only require a few prints every now and again it may work out cheaper to have someone else print them for you.
You might also want to consider using a 3D printing service if you do not have space for a printer or don’t want the hassle off setting up, running and maintaining your own.
Other benefits include a greater choice of printing processes and materials.
For example, lost wax printing used in casting precious metals for jewellery and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) for creating aluminium and titanium parts.
UK 3D Printing services:
- https://www.3dpeople.uk/ London-UK *NEW
- https://shop.3dfilaprint.com/ Essex-UK
- https://3dprintdirect.co.uk/ Aylesbury-UK
- https://www.3dprint-uk.co.uk/ London-UK
- https://www.printmypart.co.uk/ Cambridgeshire-UK
- https://3dlondon.org/ UK
- https://www.makeitquick.co.uk UK
3D Printing services based outside the UK:
- https://i.materialise.com/en Belgium HQ-Multinational
- https://www.meltwerk.com Germany HQ-Multinational
- https://www.shapeways.com/ USA HQ-Multinational
- https://www.3dhubs.com/ Multinational
- https://www.craftcloud3d.com/ Multinational
3D printing guide and tips
3D printing can be challenging, these external guides cover some of the basics:
- Calibration https://www.3dhubs.com/talk/t/howto-calibrate-tune-and-fine-tune-your-printer-and-filament/5695
- Getting started https://www.instructables.com/id/Getting-Started-With-3D-Printing/
- Common Problems https://www.simplify3d.com/support/print-quality-troubleshooting/
- Supports https://www.matterhackers.com/news/how-to-use-support-material-part-1
- Retraction settings https://3dinsider.com/3d-printer-retraction/
- Post processing https://www.fictiv.com/hwg/fabricate/ultimate-guide-to-finishing-3d-printed-parts
Starting a 3D printing Business
Additive manufacturing is reshaping opportunities for new and existing businesses. Many big businesses such as Boeing and car manufactures like BMW and Ford have already embraced this emerging technology not just for rapid prototyping but as a feasible manufacturing process.
There is no one answer to how 3D printing can be a business in it own right, but as a technology with potentially endless possibilities we will look at several ways you can get started:
- Designing niche parts or products for other people or businesses
- Selling your own designs and models
- Selling 3D prints
- Offering a local 3D printing service
- Selling 3D printers and related supplies
- Fixing and maintaining printers
- Tuition and support services
- Investing in 3D printing related stocks and shares
- Use freelance platforms like Fiverr
3D printing patents, copyright and legal implications
Welcome to pandora’s box, the ability to share and download digital designs and replicate the physical object has raised concerns over intellectual property (IP) infringement.
Check out this ongoing defamation allegation as a result of claims made that models on thingiverse where being sold ebay. https://all3dp.com/just-3d-print-brings-new-lawsuit-against-3dr-holdings/
Understanding what permissions the original creator or owner has given to their creative works will help stay compliant with the licence terms.
It all might sound like a lot of jargon, but public copyright licenses are tools used to attribute original authors and allow fair use of their works.
A good place to start is the creative commons (CC) licence, have a look at the license types and their permissions in this licence spectrum:
Creative Commons Licence Spectrum
For more on the future relationship between 3D printing and intellectual property, check out the following:
The UK’s intellectual property office (IPO) have published an in depth 88 page research report on 3D printing and IP futures across six countries available here.
A decentralized method to authenticate the data usage such as blockchain technology could be a new way forward. Blockchain tech is being explored by the likes of GE and IBM to protect IP and verify the manufacturing process from the design file to materials and printer configuration.
3D Printing and the environment
Looking at the impact on the environment both directly and indirect, below are some good and not so good affects:
Reducing Waste Materials
Some additive manufacturing methods have reduced waste material in comparison to a subtractive manufacturing method such as CNC machining.
Using 3D printers to make replacement parts to carry out repairs, increasing an items usable life.
Improving efficiency and lowering energy use
Improving efficiency by the development of lighter 3D printed parts for use in planes and vehicles.
3D printing new tooling and parts to increase performance and efficiency of existing machinery.
As already mentioned, reduced waste material also helps lower the energy used to produce the raw material in the first place, this could also be said for extending the usable life of existing items.
The ability to 3D print complex parts as one piece reducing assembly requirements and energy used.
Local manufacturing for the geographic area, minimizing transport of the final item.
Printing products at home reducing the need to travel to shops or get deliveries, although the raw materials would still require to be transported. This could be further improved if the printing material was sourced and made as local as possible, or even better from locally recycled plastics.
3D printings ability to make different products in low quantity on demand locally would help reduce the need for storage and the related energy required for those storage facilities. The warehouse is now in the clouds!
When 3D printed products reach the end of life they could be recycled into a reusable print material or filament ready to re printed into something new.
For example old shoes could be recycled with minimal need of additional material to make a larger size, or just remake them.
Waste and by product could also be utilised in this way.
Removing plastic waste from the environment especially the sea and coastal areas which the UK has plenty of, and then converting them into filaments.
Increasing the productivity of C02 Carbon capture is a new development.
Furthermore researchers at the UCLA have been exploring the idea of incorporating captured carbon into 3D printed building materials.
Helping regenerate natural environments, for example artificial ceramic reefs to foster new coral growth.
Not so good
The high temperatures and resins used in 3D printing release volatile organic compounds, some of these VOCs are dangerous to human health and cause harm to the environment.
3D printing consumes a considerable amount of electricity, arguably more than traditional methods like milling to make the same part.
Industrial printing methods such as selective laser sintering (SLS) leave a substantial amount of raw material behind which have to be refreshed at rates between 35% and 50%.
What can you do?
- Reduce material use by using lower infill rates
- Print multiple items at once
- Change orientation to reduce support material
- Use eco-friendly materials such as PLA, a corn based renewable type of thermoplastic. There is even a hemp filament that can be sourced here. It can also print at lower temperature than PLA.
- Use an enclosure and appropriate filters
- Insulate heated print beds
- Recycle failed prints and support material.
- Try to use renewable sources of energy
- Obtain materials and supplies from local sources
- Use your printer to make things to reduce your waste, energy usage and improve our environment.
A brief History of 3D printing
3D printing technology has the potential to connect us with our heritage and usher in a new era returning to local distributed manufacturing based on digital fabrication.
3D printing news
Newcastle NHS Foundation Trust Hospital gets a 3D printing lab
This is achieved by using the 3D model of the patients anatomy in pre-operative planning for complex procedures .
So far 20 patients have taken part, with the trial to include a total of 48 patients before the trust considers expanding this technology into other hospitals.
Be sure to check this space for regular updates and subscribe for the latest 3D printing developments.
If you feel something has been missed out or have any suggestions for future articles please leave a comment below.