3D printing has captivated the world. And rightly so. Seeing a three-dimensional object materialize before your eyes seems to be one part science fiction and one part robot wizardry. One thing’s for certain — it’s flat out cool.
But in complex manufacturing processes, 3D printing is just one tool in a world where many technologies must play a part. In many ways, 3D printing and laser cutting are a perfect match, combining world-class additive and subtractive capabilities that together can create just about anything the wild mind of a fabricator can think up.
First, let’s look at 3D printing.
3D printing is essentially the act of layering material into geometrical patterns until you have the part you want. It is often called “additive” manufacturing, because you are starting with nothing and adding material until you have the part you want. Technological breakthroughs in 3D printing have made the process a powerful tool for hobbyists, fabricators and large manufacturers.
Let’s be honest, subtractive manufacturing often takes second place in the cool contest. It has lasers and sparks and robots, but it doesn’t quite have the mind-blowing sci-fi allure of 3D printing. That’s OK. It’s still cool, and it is still immensely functional. And the truth is subtractive manufacturing has become its own sleek and sophisticated technology in the past several years.
So what happens when you put the powers of laser cutting and 3D printing together? They can be the ultimate complement to each other. Together, they create a multi-media manufacturing model that can do just about anything. Intricate, complex geometric parts? 3D printing has you covered. Metal panels, 2-D patterns and intricate flat components? Laser cutting can churn them out quickly and efficiently.
Here are some ways 3D printing and laser cutting can combine into amazing projects:
Many projects have large, fairly straightforward pieces as well as small, intricate details. Take for example metal coffee tables. Large panels of metal are joined by three-dimensional connectors. A project like this can leverage the strengths of both 3D printing and laser cutting. The large metal panels can be cut and customized by the laser cutter, while the 3D printer handles the intricate, but smaller, connectors that join the legs to the table top.
One of the cooler projects we’ve been involved in over the past year combined 3D printing and laser cutting. Michael Gillette from Nevada Jumpstarter was tapped to provide medical respirator battery packs on short notice. He 3D printed clips, and we cut aluminum battery cages with a breakless bend (pushing our 2D laser-cutting technology to as close to 3D as possible). Gillette then combined the baseplates, clips and our battery cages into finished battery packs. This project illustrated how plates and cages can efficiently be laser-cut, while the 3D nature of clips make them a perfect candidate for printing.
The emerging capabilities of both laser cutting and 3D printing are still being explored. Our clients are finding new experimental ways to push the boundaries of all manner of CNC machining. Projects will come across our laser cutting tables this year that will blow our minds. So experimentation is part of the creative process, and new combinations of 3D printing and laser cutting are sure to emerge as wild makers and fabricators crack the code on cooler and cooler combinations.