3D Engraving vs 3D Printing – Don’t Get Confused
A recent news report proclaimed, with a significant degree of excitement, that the aviation industry will shortly be making increasing use of parts “manufactured by 3D engraving techniques” In the near future.
Well, that’s very interesting but it might have come as something of a surprise to specialists in such techniques! It seems much more likely that the author of the piece had simply become confused between 3D engraving and printing.
Let’s have a quick refresher as to the basic principles involved.
What is three-dimensional printing?
Broadly speaking, this technique involves a machine printing using some sort of resin-like substance in order to create a solid object. That object is something that can be very precisely defined and, eventually, potentially put to practical and functional use. For example, there have been some press articles recently relating to the dangers of guns being made by these printing techniques and some demonstrations that the result is a perfectly workable weapon. In a sense, new terminology is required to accurately describe the technique, as it is perhaps closer in concept to things such as injection moulding than it is conventional printing.
At the moment, three-dimensional printing machines are typically extremely expensive, though that cost is falling as the technology matures and becomes targeted rather more at the consumer as opposed to academic market place.
What is three-dimensional engraving?
This is an entirely different technology. It usually involves the construction of a 3D image in a computer, using sophisticated design techniques. That image is then used as the import file of an extremely high-tech laser device that is usually referred to as an engraver but sometimes, admittedly rather confusingly, also as a 3D laser printer.
The classic application for 3D engraving of this type is that associated with placing a three-dimensional image, apparently magically, into an otherwise solid block of crystal or similar substance. These images are very popular in business areas such as corporate gifts, corporate hospitality, trophies, retirement presents and so on.
Once again, 3D engraving was originally an extremely expensive process; though over recent decades the technology has matured and it is now well within the reach of even small organisations or individuals.
Although the technologies are fundamentally different and products are typically targeted at very different marketplaces, they do share certain things in common notably:
• For the highest quality results, it is usually necessary to go to a specialist. The techniques are still largely those of a scientific or industrial process rather than a domestic household one.
• Both manufacturing processes depend upon a very high-quality digitised design file that will drive the printer or laser engraving machines concerned.
Whether you are speaking about this kind of printing or 3D engraving, there are specialists out there who will be able to provide more details if required.