Why Does Additive Manufacturing Matter?

Many people aren't aware that additive manufacturing (AM) has actually been around for nearly four decades (yes, really). However, real-world applications have only taken off around the last decade or so.

Additive manufacturing is described as a method of building an object layer by layer. Typically, you design a 3D model and send the data to a machine that then creates a physical object (generally a 3D printer). You can create a vast range of objects using various materials and techniques. Additive manufacturing imposes countless benefits over other manufacturing techniques, which is a primary reason of why it's quickly becoming so popular in industries today.

Additive manufacturing is self-contained, which is one of the most advantageous aspects of it. AM doesn't only print your object, but it can also create the scaffolding to support the object during production. When the job is completed, post production can be as simple as snapping off excess supports or blowing off some loose powder. On the other hand, traditional manufacturing can require weeks of setup, mold design, and tooling before the first part rolls off the production line. Traditional manufacturing also tends to be much more time-consuming, costly, and unreliable.

For this very reason, additive manufacturing has proved popular with inventors and engineers, especially during prototyping. Once you have a design, you can create a physical part within hours. Even if you don’t have your own machinery, you can send a 3D CAD model to an agency that does and, within a day or two, have a physical part shipped back to you.

Additive manufacturing also offers maximum flexibility and removes limits on your design. With AM, you can create parts that aren't possible to create using traditional manufacturing methods... say for example, a lattice structure. Traditional production methods like casting and milling aren’t well suited to produce these intricate lattice structures. Parts may not exit molds cleanly and milling costs skyrocket when you remove material from multiple directions. However, additive manufacturing creates these structures affordably, with ease.

Until recently, additive manufacturing has primarily tended to use plastic. Now, the range of materials used in AM is rapidly expanding. New plastics have developed, along with additional processes to use ceramics, metals, glass, cement, wood, paper, nylon, and even living cells. Specifically, metal is becoming an increasingly popular material in additive manufacturing. Researchers at places like MIT and Washington State are innovating new ways to mix materials into a single build, thus creating objects with properties not possible with a single substance. As varied materials emerge, additive manufacturing promises to become even more vital to product development.

Additive manufacturing is pushing individuals to approach problems in a new way. Opportunities are expanding, new products are being created, possibilities are becoming endless, boundaries are being broken down, and limits are being pushed. All thanks to Additive Manufacturing, you're no longer constrained by the old rules for manufacturing and materials. You can now explore your own imagination to find new solutions; without limits.