FroYo and Filaments

A Tasty Guide to How 3D Printing Works

One of my family’s favorite outings is a trip to the self-serve frozen yogurt shop.  “FroYo” is always a tasty treat, but eating the yogurt is just part of the experience.  The real fun lies in pulling the yogurt machine’s lever and watching with delight as the frozen concoction piles out of the nozzle into the bowl. My kids often experiment with the way they fill the container, creating different shapes out of the yogurt to build their sweet masterpiece, layer by layer.  Oddly enough, 3D printing reminds me of those delicious delicacies (I know. Weird. But stay with me here, folks!)

What exactly is 3D Printing?

We cover that here, but in case you missed it…3D Printing is the process in which a solid object is created using a 3-dimensional digitized model.  A product is first designed via computer software.  Materials are then fed into a 3D printer and are printed through an additive process that pours out the materials layer by layer in the form of the digital model’s specifications. So how is that even remotely like frozen yogurt?  Let’s break it down:

Your Imagination = Computer Model

Just like we envision the shapes we will create with the yogurt before we pour it out, engineers use modeling technology. This technology is called Computer Aided Design (CAD) software. The engineers use this technology to design 3-dimensional products.  These designs are inputted to the 3D printer for creation.

Yogurt Ingredients = Filament

The “ingredient” that the 3-dimensional product will be made with is called a Filament. Filament enters a 3D Printer in the form of a spool. Today’s 3D printers use a wide variety of filaments – including powders, plastics, fiberglass, and even METAL– depending on the intended product.  The type and quality of filaments that can be used for 3D printing are growing at a rapid rate.  Every year (or even every quarter!) more resilient and effective materials are introduced in the market for use in 3D printing.

FroYo Machine = 3D Printer

For FroYo, the ingredients are frozen inside the machine to solidify before getting poured out of the nozzle.  In 3D printing, there are multiple ways in which the inputted materials are processed before output.  One of the most common methods, called Fused Filament Fabrication, heats the materials and then extrudes them through a nozzle. Other methods involve curing materials using a UV laser (called Stereolithography or SLA), or applying a liquid bonding agent to bond the materials together, known as Binder Jetting. Regardless of the method, the 3D printing machine takes in the materials and converts them into a product that gets laid onto the printing bed, in much the same way that the yummy yogurt gets poured out of the yogurt machine.

FroYo Bowl = Printing Bed

Just as the bowl holds the yogurt, the 3D printer pours the liquefied filament out, layer by layer, directly onto a printing bed.  As the filament cools, it forms the precise pattern designed by the engineer until – Voila! –  the desired product is created.

I would say the analogy stops here, but that isn’t necessarily true. Today’s 3D printers can even print FOOD!  But we can save that discussion for another day…it’s time for a frozen yogurt break!

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