Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The more common term for additive manufacturing: 3D printing

The term additive manufacturing refers to technologies through which solid, three-dimensional products are constructed by successive addition of parts. Typically, these parts are layers that are deposited or printed on top of each other. Therefore, the common term 3D printing (or 3-D printing) is used. 3D printing is applied in rapid prototyping—the printing of plastic models to explore ideas and innovations. Currently, 3D printing is maturing to an advanced stage enabling the composition of complex devices and machinery [1]. Bioprinters are developed to biofabricate body tissue by printing living cells [2].
The typical 3D-printing process is based on inkjet printing: A layer of resin or polymers is precisely placed onto a substrate, while the deposited layer is turning itself—by hardening—into the substrate for the next layer. Also, metal or ceramic pigments or nanoparticles (or precursor compounds thereof) are spread out on a build platform and then reacted, melted, alloyed or sintered together; for example, by laser treatment.

A lot of excitement about 3D printing derives from envisioning all the possibilities people will get to digitally design and make their own toys and goods [3].

The term additive manufacturing contrasts the term subtractive manufacturing, which refers to the traditional machining and manufacturing processes including cutting, sawing, fracturing, cleaving, carving, drilling, polishing and finishing off. Instead of shaping a product by starting with a material piece or block and generating dust and waste, the 3D approach structures a product by building lightweight architectures from optimized resource minima. 

Keywords: engineering, chemistry, nanotechnology, advanced materials, design, fabrication, mass production.

References and more to explore
[1] Larry Greenemeier: To Print the Impossible. Scientific American May 2013, 308 (5), pp. 44-47. 
[2] Larry Greenemeier: Scientists Use 3-D Printer to Speed Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research [].
[3] The Economist: The printed world []

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