What is additive manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing (AM) is a digital manufacturing process in which a CAD model is used to create a solid object. A variety of technologies are defined as being additive, as these processes add material over the course of the build, rather than subtracting it as seen in many traditional manufacturing methods like CNC milling. Materials are deposited, often in a layer-by-layer process, using a 3D printer to build up the geometry of the model in three dimensions. AM processes can handle a variety of metals, from simple plastics to various metal alloys, and from food pastes to biomaterials.
What’s the difference between 3D printing and additive manufacturing?
There are several ways of referring to these technologies, most commonly 3D printing or additive manufacturing, though rapid prototyping is also used. 3D printing and additive manufacturing are often used interchangeably to refer to effectively the same processes. Additive manufacturing is recognized as a more industrial term, and tends to encompass expensive professional machinery being used in applications from prototyping to end-use product production.
3D printing can refer to the process of layer-by-layer building of an object, or more generally to refer to any usage of this technology, from hobbyists using inexpensive desktop systems to professionals using industrial equipment. Rapid prototyping was one of the first terms used for these technologies, which in the 1980s were geared toward the rapid production of prototypes and for a few decades so dominated usage that this application was synonymous with the tech itself.
What is additive manufacturing in metals?
Additive manufacturing in metals is the industrial 3D printing of metal materials. This can be achieved through a variety of 3D printing technologies, including powder bed fusion (PBF), directed energy deposition (DED), binder jetting, and material extrusion. Metal AM allows for the creation of more unique geometries than previously possible with traditional technologies. Advanced design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) enables topology optimization, for example, where lattice and other complex structures can be 3D printed in single pieces that do not require further assembly. Designs can see a reduction in part counts, labor time and cost, and material count, as well as achieving lighter structural weight.
What are the material options for additive manufacturing?
Material options in additive manufacturing may not run the full gamut available in traditional technologies, but new formulations are becoming available all the time! On the plastic (polymer) side, common materials like PLA and ABS have long been available, and composite (e.g., carbon fiber, glass-filled, wood composite) and engineering-grade materials (like ULTEM, PEEK, PEKK, and various grades of nylon) are now readily available. Metals from stainless steel and aluminum to titanium and Inconel have also been formulated for 3D printing. Because Shapeways offers a variety of 3D printing technologies, a wide selection of materials are available from one source, including using 3D printing to cast designs to use more traditional materials.
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