Additive manufacturing is one way of referring to 3D printing in an industrial capacity. Also called additive layer manufacturing (ALM), this computer-controlled process carefully layers extruded material to produce a form, part, or shape that can be used as either a finished product, prototype, tool, or component.


The additive manufacturing definition now encompasses a broad range of automated, computer-aided design techniques that yield a three-dimensional object. Additive manufacturing has also been called rapid manufacturing, desktop manufacturing, and rapid prototyping.

What Are The Benefits Of 3D Printing?

In industrial production and manufacturing, there are many benefits of 3D printing. The ability to control and adjust various aspects of design through a computer-aided process gives designers more flexibility and control. 3D printing can create more complex designs than conventional manufacturing and through an entirely automated process.

Since 3D printing is an additive process, rather than a subtractive one—as in the case of milling, casting, and turning methods—there is almost no waste. Virtually all extruded material is used to form the part. Other advantages of 3D printing include the utilization of lower cost and lighter weight materials and a smaller equipment footprint.

Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Types Of Additive Manufacturing

In general, the additive manufacturing process involves the layering of material through a computer-controlled printer. There are different types of additive manufacturing that achieve this. Material extrusion is one of the more familiar methods because it’s low cost and user-friendly. Material extrusion 3D printers heat material and extrude it in molten form, which solidifies as it cools. Binder jetting additive manufacturing is similar, but it instead uses powered material that is built in layers.

Powder bed fusion additive manufacturing also uses material particles, which are fused together using an electron beam. The process is more involved, but the results are stronger and more complex. Vat polymerization shares many similarities with bed fusion, but this process uses photopolymer resin and ultraviolet lasers to harden each layer. Other methods are in use and are being developed to meet specific rapid prototyping needs.

Additive Manufacturing Technologies And Their Role In Modern Industry

When modern additive manufacturing technologies began to mature in the early 2000s, the capability was mainly used in experimental and prototyping capacities. This was due to the cost of the equipment, the limitations on printable materials, and the speed of production, among other issues.

Throughout the 2010s, improvements to the technology and material formulations, as well as reduced equipment costs and increased efficiency, made additive manufacturing more viable for more industries.

The aviation industry in particular saw unique potential for additive manufacturing thanks to the technology’s capability to produce very complex and lightweight parts while creating virtually no waste.

Additive manufacturing offered special benefits for fashion, consumer electronics, and other industries that prioritize design and customization in their products. Medical manufacturing also leveraged the benefits of 3D printing through the development of prosthetics, implants, and other devices that are precision engineered for individual patient needs. Currently, additive manufacturing technologies are used for multiple aspects of prototyping and production by many different industries.

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