Additive manufacturing explained

By Anna Kucirkova

Special to Leeham News


Jan. 22, 2019, © Leeham News: A lot of changes have taken place in the manufacturing industry over the years.

Anna Kucirkova

Just a few decades ago, the concept of manufacturing products from your home seemed impossible. If you wanted a product, then you had to purchase it or request a company to produce it for you.

Now you can purchase a machine, set it in your house and produce what you desire with the help of a computer. What used to cost manufacturing firms huge capital can now be built at a lower price in your home.

So what changed? This article will explore some notable changes that have shaped the manufacturing industry to where it is today.

What is Additive Manufacturing?

In the past, when we wanted to produce something, we had to take a material and remove what we didn’t require. That was a concept of subtractive manufacturing.

But additive manufacturing is opposite of subtractive manufacturing. You begin with zero and add in what you need. Additive manufacturing is also referred to as 3D printing, where you keep on adding layers of material until the product is completed. The materials used can be metal, plastic or concrete.

To 3D print, you require a computer and CAD software to help you read the sketch design and add on layers of material until the product is complete. While 3D printing is the most famous type of additive manufacturing, it includes technologies such as rapid prototyping, layered manufacturing, additive fabricating, and digital manufacturing.

The potential applications of 3D printing are endless. It began as a way of developing prototypes for companies. They could brainstorm a product, draw a sketch and develop a sample within a short time. Additive manufacturing is a life-changing technology that we should all embrace.

Additive Manufacturing Processes
Material Extrusion

This is the most popular process. With this process, your material is put in a spool, which is pushed through a hot nozzle mounted in a mobile arm. The nozzle moves vertically and horizontally depositing your material layer upon layer.

Direct Energy Deposition

Direct energy deposition is almost the same as material extrusion, but it gives room for more materials to be included. Plastics normally undergo material extrusion process. Polymers, metals, and ceramics are common with direct energy process.

Material Jetting

This process makes use of the same concept as that of an inkjet printer. Its head moves on y, z, and x-axes to produce a 3D product. The layers harden once they start cooling or are cured by UV light.

Advantages of Additive Manufacturing

There are several benefits that people can derive from additive manufacturing from saving time to producing complex designs that could not be achieved using conventional manufacturing methods. Here are some of the advantages of 3D printing:

Saves time

The entire production process saves a lot of time. You can head straight to your CAD file without requiring special machines or intermediaries. You can even make some tweaks as the process is going on without seeking approval from anyone.

Added Complexity

Additive manufacturing allows engineers to build complex designs than they could with conventional manufacturing processes. Objects that previously required welding or assembly can now be produced once using this process.

About Kucirkova

Anna Kucirkova is a freelance writer. She speaks three languages. Her work has appeared in a variety of international publications.



5 Comments on “Additive manufacturing explained

  1.’s basic of the basic! But it’s the first stept on the journey to find more about – it’s an wonderful world of 3D printing!

  2. The Aerospace Technology Institute in the UK published a useful primer on AM for aersopace a couple of years back ( There’s also a presentation form 2018 on the site ( but I haven’t actually seen an update to the roadmaps they discuss but the first date, 2020, is close enough that I assume there must have been developments in standardised certification. Any idea what the current progress is globally on this?

  3. What I particularly like about additive manufacturing, is that lighter weight products are cheaper to make because they add less.With machining lighter weight costs a lot more because you have to work to remove material.
    Composites are a type of additive manufacturing even when done manually.

  4. Welcome Anna,

    I am not sure I would use the term life saving though it may save lives but world changing.

    I see the future changes as an era onto the Iron Steam and Computer Age era listing.

    Its amazing technology.

  5. I’m wondering if it is correct additive manufacturing offers relatively more benefits when applied to smaller production runs (compared to mass production)?

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