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3D Printers are a subset of CNC machines: they use stepper motors to move along X, Y, and Z axes according to gCode - essentially a text file with thousands of lines of coordinates and special commands (such as "return to origin" or "set nozzle temperature"). As motors on each axis moves the nozzle through 3D space, an additional motor feeds plastic filament through a heating element, very much like an automatic hot glue gun.
The software that turns a 3D model (such as an .stl or .obj) into instructions telling the printer how to move is called a "slicer" - it slices a model into layers that will stack up to make the finished object.
Many options exist for controlling the printer with your computer - nowadays several "slicers" can also connect to the printer directly, streamlining the printing process.. As a central backbone of Digital Fabrication, the end goal of 3D printers is to be able to print anything.
Types of 3D Printers
See past work related to Factor e Farm at RepRap Build.
3D printer technology is currently undergoing a flourishing of innovation. As a relatively new technology (2003), many experimental designs and techniques are being explored by thousands of groups worldwide.
- Comparison of 3D Printers
- RepRap Build
- 3D Ceramic
- Stepper Motor
- MIT Machines that Make
- Electron Beam Melting
- RepRap MetalicaRap subproject, investigating inexpensive, self-replicating electron beam melting machine design for 3D metal object and solar cell printing
- Cermets, materials that may be suitable for 3D ceramic printing techniques but give material properties superior to those of either metals or ceramics