The current definition for 3D printing and current classification of printer types as per the 2014 CTC 3D printing show in Birmingham, UK
- 3D printing or additive manufacturing (AM) refers to any of the various processes for printing a three-dimensional object. Primarily additive processes are used, in which successive layers of material are laid down under computer control. These objects can be of almost any shape or geometry, and are produced from a 3D model or other electronic data source. A 3D printer is a type of industrial robot.
3D printers fall under 7 different categories. These are
Powder bed fusion
Directed energy deposition
A broader definition for 3D printing is Direct Digital Manufacturing. Direct Digital Manufacturing is any fabrication process by which a 3D model or digital file is inputted and where an automated assembly process can be fabricated in a multitude of variations with little to no retooling of the assembly process.
In the factory of the future
Additive manufacturing (AM) is one of the hottest areas in parts fabrication. AM has moved beyond it's initial role as a prototyping tool to a process that can build finished parts. AM technologies like fused deposition modeling (FDM), were able from their beginnings to accurately form complex, three-dimensional parts directly, without tooling or additional manual labor. But those early stages of the technology came with technical challenges that - particularly in the composites industry - limited their utility. Early AM devices used low-end, unreinforced commodity thermoplastics and there build areas were small which extremely limited part size. It took early adopters and enthusiasts of the new technology to show the rest of the world the possibilities that AM afforded. Not only could AM produce easily duplicate parts with specified dimensions and tolerances,they could produce parts and shapes that were impossible to produce using molds or other techniques, indeed they were AM can produce shape that are impossible to create any other way. In those beginning years AM afforded no viable alternative to molders of high-performance composites. In recent years however 3D printers have evolved to use materials with a wider ranger of properties from soft rubbers to long strand carbon fiber, kevlar, and fiber glass reinforce nylon.