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It all adds up: 3D printer options

A list of the most prevalent types of 3D printers that colleges can benefit from
University Business, June 2017

The essence of 3D printing is a concept called additive manufacturing that builds up the item one layer at a time.

Regardless of whether it happens in a printer that costs $1,000 or $150,000, the process starts with a digital file that defines the item’s shape and divdes it into tiny slices.

The most prevalent types of 3D printers are:

  • Fused deposition. Easily the most popular on campus, these printers force polylactic acid or other polymers through a tiny nozzle that moves back and forth over the model, building up material layer by layer. 
  • Stereolithography. This specialty printer uses UV lasers to activate a hardening chemical in the raw material as the model is created a slice at a time. A variant of this uses digital light processing elements similar to those used in classroom projectors to form the image.
  • Selective laser sintering. Similar to stereolithography, these printers start with a powered raw material that’s built one layer at a time as a laser scans over the item consolidating the material.
  • Binder jetting. Invented at MIT and commercialized by HP, this technique builds up the input powder layer by layer as it is sprayed with a hardening chemical.

Brian Nadel is a Pelham, New York-based technology writer.