Additive manufacturing (AM) describes the technologies that build 3D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of material to build products. Once a file is produced using a 3D modeling software, the additive manufacturing machine (otherwise known as 3D printers) reads the data from the file and lays down successive layers of material to create a 3D object.
While the technology was first introduced in the early 1980's, its first uses were focused on prototyping and as a way to visualize models in preproduction. Since then, additive manufacturing has evolved and is being used to create end-use products across almost all industries.
Products created using additive manufacturing techniques can be made in a variety of materials, from plastics to metals to ceramic. The technology is fluid and still evolving, and new materials are introduced at a more rapid pace than ever before.
Additive manufacturing begins with a computer-aided design (CAD) file, which is used as a blueprint to create products. The 3D printer uses the file blueprint to lay down thin layers, measured in microns, of material to build the final 3D object. The materials may range from powders to liquid to sheet.
The term additive manufacturing encompasses many technologies including subsets like 3D Printing, Rapid Prototyping (RP), Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM), layered manufacturing and additive fabrication.
Additive manufacturing offers consumers and professionals alike the ability to create, customize and/or repair products, and in the process, redefine current production technology. It is a means to create highly customized products, as well as produce large amounts of production parts. Products are brought to market in days rather than months and designers save money by using additive manufacturing instead of traditional manufacturing methods. In addition, the risk factor is much lower and those involved can receive near-immediate feedback because prototypes take less time to produce.
For those looking to do rapid prototyping, additive manufacturing is extremely beneficial. The technology lends itself to efficiently create quick prototypes, allowing designers and businesses to get their products more quickly. When done in a large printer, multiple parts can be done at once in less time.
A variety of industries use additive manufacturing to fabricate end-use product, consumer and otherwise, including aerospace, architecture, automotive, education, game and medical industries. The technology is popular among design and architecture firms as well. Industries and businesses that build products and prototypes, as well as short run and on demand manufacturing of components benefit from the use of additive manufacturing.
At Shapeways, our mission is to make additive manufacturing accessible to everyone. Our factories house industrial-sized 3D printers that can print hundreds (sometimes thousands) of products at once, in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.
We offer support for anyone interested in using the technology, from large companies to small business to independent designers. We offer customization tools that allow you to create truly unique products, an API to help you power a business on Shapeways, a variety of tutorials to get the best from our platform and more.