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Additive Manufacturing: The Rise of 3D Printing

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3D printing has been on the rise since its invention in the 1980’s and has seen a boom over the past few years. 3D printing refers to one of three different processes, all of which have the same outcome – a machine builds a three-dimensional object from a computer-aided design (CAD).

Although there are a number of methods for 3D printing, also known as Additive Manufacturing, the core concept is a three – step process:

1 – Create a blueprint. There are two methods for building a blueprint of the object to be printed. You can either use a computer program to aid in designing a 3D model for printing, or you can utilize a 3D scanner to create the model from an already existing object.

2 – Select the material. There are a variety of methods of Additive Manufacturing, each capable of using different materials to create the object. Determining what the object should be made out of will help determine which type of printer to invest in.

3 – Upload the blueprint and print. Once you have the printer loaded with the material and blueprint, it will, layer by layer (generally less than .002 inches thick) build the object.

The benefits of 3D printers in the manufacturing process are extensive, as it is possible to assemble prototypes rapidly, replacement parts, or even automate entire processes, such as the casting, fabrication, stamping, and machining of metalwork production.

As with all new inventions, it takes time to gain traction and for others to see the use and cost-benefit of the technology. Over the past few years, the cost of 3D printers has dropped, as machines generally approached $20,000 in 2010, and, in today’s market, are typically available for $1,000 or less.

As this technology becomes more readily available and cost-efficient, it is prudent for manufacturers to consider if they can improve one or more aspects of their processing with 3D printing.