3D printing is ubiquitous in the media these days. In most cases, however, 3D printing is used as a generic term for the field of additive manufacturing (AM).
According to ASTM F2792-12a additive manufacturing is:
“A process of joining materials to make objects from 3D model data, usually layer upon layer, as opposed to subtractive manufacturing methodologies.”
There are many different additive manufacturing processes, but what they all have in common is that they are layer construction processes that are automated and built based on CAD data. Additive manufacturing processes are characterised above all by the fact that no further tools or moulds are required in the process and therefore almost no limiting factors occur for the design of the parts. Another characteristic advantage is the fast production. The path from design to component is greatly shortened and changes to the component shortly before construction do not pose a problem. What further distinguishes additive from subtractive manufacturing processes is the approach that almost all unused material can be reused. In subtractive processes, up to 70% of the material is removed. The advantages of this promising technology are also becoming more and more apparent to the industry, which is reflected in annual growth rates of around 30 %.
The first form of modern additive manufacturing is stereolithography. It and the .stl file format used in the AM industry were invented in 1986 by Charles W. Hull, who subsequently founded the company 3D-Systems, which is now one of the market leaders in this field. With stereolithography, only light-curing polymers such as acrylic resins could be used. With the subsequently developed AM technologies, other materials could also be used. Today, the selection of usable materials consists mainly of plastics and metals, but ceramics can also be manufactured additively.