3D printing has been around for more than 30 years. Recently, the core technology for 3D printers has become available at prices many individuals and smaller companies can afford.

Three key things make 3D printing stand out from almost any other manufacturing process:

  • Printed parts are “grown” in layers. Many complex objects that have internal structures or comprised of subassemblies can be manufactured in a single run, whereas previously, they could not be made by traditional means. This process often improves the performance of the finished part.
  • Material is added rather than subtracted. This method of manufacturing adds raw materials to build an object rather than removing material. Machining away 90 percent of a metal block to make a cooling system for a race car is far less efficient than adding the 10 percent or so of metal powder needed to make a more compact and efficient design that couldn’t have been machined in the first place.
  • 3D printing often eliminates the need for complex or expensive production tooling. This benefit is becoming significant as 3D printers are being used for mass manufacturing runs in which individual tooling or hand-crafting would make customized products far too expensive (such as solid gold jewelry).

In short, 3D printing turns a digital model in a computer data file into a physical representation of the object or product. The term 3D printing is actually disliked in the wider industry, as it’s a poor representation of what this ...

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