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What is 3D printing and what is additive manufacturing?

What is 3D printing and what is additive manufacturing?

An introduction to 3D printing and additive manufacturing processes, materials and benefits.

What is 3D printing and additive manufacturing?

3D printing or additive manufacturing enables you to produce geometrically complex objects, shapes and textures. It often uses less material than traditional manufacturing methods and allows the production of items that were simply not possible to produce economically with traditional manufacturing.

If you’re new to 3D printing technology, it might be helpful to compare it to traditional methods of manufacturing.

The two principal traditional methods of manufacturing are:

  • Subtractive Manufacturing (SM) is the controlled removal of material, like milling, for example.
  • Formative Manufacturing (FM) takes a material, usually a plastic, and reshapes it to create a final product.


Compare these to 3D printing or additive manufacturing, which involves adding material in layers to create the final product.

Though additive manufacturing has been around for decades, it is still a relatively new technology compared to traditional manufacturing. In this guide, we hope to answer some of the most fundamental questions about 3D printing and additive manufacturing and give you all the information you need to begin harnessing the power of this exceptional technology.

What is 3D printing?

The term 3D printing is typically used to refer to all types of additive manufacturing. However, this is not quite accurate. Strictly speaking, 3D printing refers only to the transformation of a digital CAD (Computer-Aided Design) file into a three-dimensional physical solid object or part. 

This object is produced by a 3D printer, which “translates” the CAD file into a 3D model. It typically does this by depositing material layer by layer in precise geometric shapes using a printhead, nozzle, or other printing technology. Each layer can be considered a thinly sliced cross-section of the final object being built.

Though it is most common to 3D print plastics, as you’ll see in our Complete Guide to 3D printing materials, this is just the beginning.

Data courtesy1

What are common 3D printing materials?

3D printing uses a huge variety of materials, especially plastics and metals. However, it is also on the cutting-edge of many new technologies and industries. For example, it is possible to 3D print in biomaterials to create complex tissue models. And, on a lighter note, it’s even possible to use edible materials, like chocolate.

Later in this guide, we will do a full rundown of the materials used in 3D printing.

What are 3D printed parts like?

Because it’s possible to 3D print in a variety of materials, the individual characteristics of a 3D printed part can be very different. 

 

For example, if you’re 3D printing in HP 3D High Reusability PA 122, then you can produce strong, functional parts that will provide good chemical resistance and are ideal for complex assemblies, housings, enclosures, and watertight applications. But if you’re using HP 3D High Reusability TPA enabled by Evonik3, then the finished products will be flexible, lightweight parts with enhanced rebound resilience. The only limit really is the ingenuity of your designers and, of course, your specific design needs.

Data courtesy4

The growth of the 3D printing market

What began as a niche and futuristic technology has today become widely used and even ubiquitous. Today, the use of 3D printing has grown to the point where almost all major manufacturers are incorporating or seeking to incorporate it into their design or manufacturing processes.

It was once used primarily for prototyping or for one-off manufacturing single, customized or spare parts. But today, it is used as an efficient, versatile, and reliable production technology for many large-scale industrial manufacturers. 

And the 3D printing market is continuing to grow at speed. In fact, Wohlers Associates expects it to be worth $46.8 billion by 2026. (Source: Wohler’s Report 2021).

As it continues to develop, 3D printing technology will transform almost every major industry and fundamentally change the way we live, work, design and manufacture.

How has 3D printing technology developed? 

Much of the growth in the 3D printing industry comes from the rapid growth of 3D printing in manufacturing, which was thought impossible when the process was first developed.

Today, new 3D printing materials, processes, and companies are appearing and developing constantly – you’ll hear about a myriad 3D printing technologies - Select Laser Sintering or SLS, Material Jetting, Binder Jetting, HP Multi Jet Fusion, to name just a few – and this coupled with continuous progress in the industry can make it hard for individuals and companies to keep up and to ensure that they’re making the most of this fast-developing technology.

But keeping up is becoming increasingly important. As 3D printing delivers a mixture of better performance, more complex geometries, and more efficient production, it creates an exceptional opportunity for those able to use it to its potential and will result in those that don’t, quickly being left behind. 

What are the benefits of 3D printing?

Almost every industry is being disrupted by the switch from analog to digital processes, and manufacturing is no different. 3D printing and additive manufacturing are helping to bring opportunity, flexibility, and efficiency to manufacturing operations.

Whether being used for building functional rapid prototypes, for small/medium series production, or for large-scale series production, 3D printing offers considerable advantages over traditional manufacturing.

For a start, product prototyping and development can be made significantly faster, product customization and functional integration can be achieved more quickly, and overall costs can be reduced, especially for tooling in the early stages of the product lifecycle.

And design and production improvements inevitably benefit the wider business. 3D printing can offer large-scale manufacturers from a wide range of industries the chance to differentiate themselves from their competitors with improved customer offerings, cost savings, and increased sustainability through on-demand production and virtual inventories.

Want to know more about 3D printing and additive manufacturing?

If you’re new to 3D printing, we understand it can be a lot to learn, but we believe that it is worth it. That’s why we’ve created this useful guide to 3D printing and the benefits that it could bring to your business. So, why not spend a little time here and learn about how this technology could help propel your business growth?

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Footnotes and disclaimers

  1. Data courtesy of Exiii
  2. HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solutions using HP 3D High Reusability PA 12 provide up to 80% powder reusability ratio, producing functional parts batch after batch. For testing, material is aged in real printing conditions and powder is tracked by generations (worst case for reusability). Parts are then made from each generation and tested for mechanical properties and accuracy.
  3. HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solutions using HP 3D High Reusability TPA enabled by Evonik provide up to 80% powder reusability ratio, producing functional parts batch after batch. For testing, material is aged in real printing conditions and powder is tracked by generations (worst case for reusability). Parts are then made from each generation and tested for mechanical properties and accuracy.
  4. Data courtesy of Autodesk Netfabb, Addit-ion, GKN Powder Metallurgy and Volkswagen.