Additive Manufacturing (AM) is an appropriate name to describe the technologies that build 3D objects byadding layer-upon-layer of material, whether the material is plastic, metal, concrete or one day…..human tissue.
Common to AM technologies is the use of a computer, 3D modeling software (Computer Aided Design or CAD), machine equipment and layering material. Once a CAD sketch is produced, the AM equipment reads in data from the CAD file and lays downs or adds successive layers of liquid, powder, sheet material or other, in a layer-upon-layer fashion to fabricate a 3D object.
The term AM encompasses many technologies including subsets like 3D Printing, Rapid Prototyping (RP), Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM), layered manufacturing and additive fabrication.
AM application is limitless. Early use of AM in the form of Rapid Prototyping focused on preproduction visualization models. More recently, AM is being used to fabricate end-use products in aircraft, dental restorations, medical implants, automobiles, and even fashion products.
While the adding of layer-upon-layer approach is simple, there are many applications of AM technology with degrees of sophistication to meet diverse needs including:
+ a visualization tool in design
+ a means to create highly customized products for consumers and professionals alike
+ as industrial tooling
+ to produce small lots of production parts
+ one day….production of human organs
At MIT, where the technology was invented, projects abound supporting a range of forward-thinking applications from multi-structure concrete to machines that can build machines; while work at Contour Crafting supports structures for people to live and work in.
Some envision AM as a compliment to foundational subtractive manufacturing (removing material like drilling out material) and to lesser degree forming (like forging). Regardless, AM may offer consumers and professionals alike, the accessibility to create, customize and/or repair product, and in the process, redefine current production technology.