June 2020

How does 3D printing work?

There are numerous examples of how 3D printing has become a mainstream technology in recent years, but just how does 3D printing work?

Here at Ogle, we fully understand the power of 3D printing and the potential it brings. While we know that many industrial veterans use these processes to benefit their products and developments, we’re also well aware that some of you are taking your first steps into the world of 3D printing.

The Basics

3D printing or additive manufacturing is the process of creating a three-dimensional solid object from a digital file. A 3D printed object is made using additive processes, with the part built up layer upon layer. 3D printing allows the production of complex geometries, often with reduced cost and lead times when compared with traditional prototyping or low volume production methods – making it increasingly popular within a range of industries.

The History

The concept of 3D printing had been around in theory since 1970s, but it wasn’t until Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute published his account of a functional rapid-prototyping system when it really became a reality.

Three years later, in 1984, Charles Hull made 3D-printing history by inventing stereolithography, allowing designers to create models using digital data. As the technology progressed, it was 1996 when we invested in our first SLA machine, adding an SLS machine to our arsenal four years later.

Types of 3D Printing

While there are a number of different types of 3D printing, the three most popular processes are SLS (Selective Laser Sintering), SLA (Stereolithography) and FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling).

Types of 3D printing processes. From left to right: SLS, SLA, FDM.


SLS: Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) uses a CO2 laser to trace the required shape (layer by layer) from a 3D CAD – Computer Aided Design –file across a compacted and heated powder bed of material. Sintering the powder together and building parts layer-by-layer. The SLS process is great for functional prototypes and end use parts, or parts with particular complex geometries. See SLS in action:

Rotary engine 3D printed using the SLS process.


SLA: Stereolithography was the very first 3D printing process. It is an additive manufacturing process in which an object is created by selectively curing a polymer resin layer-by-layer using a UV laser. The SLA process produces parts with crisp detail and high accuracy, making them ideal for fit form prototypes with a good surface finish. They are easily hand finished and painted to produce aesthetic and concept models.

Petrol pump modification to allow for an advert to be installed, 3D printed using the SLA process.


FDM: Fused Deposition Modelling build parts by melting and extruding thermoplastic filament, which a printer nozzle deposits layer by layer in the build area. FDM is the more controlled and industrial sister to FFF, which is more associated with desktop printers. FDM is great if you require ‘real’ engineering materials – suited for end use applications.

Sample brain part 3d printed using the FDM process.


What are the benefits of 3D printing?

So, now you know how 3D printing works, the next question you probably have it what the numerous benefits are. Well, we have the answer. To learn more about the benefits of 3D printing and continue your journey, read our blog, here: https://www.oglemodels.com/news/the-benefits-of-prototyping/.

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on +44 (0) 1462 682 661 or email us at [email protected].