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Terminology Debate

January 31, 2009

Filed under: additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 09:12


New terminology, especially in a fast-developing industry, can be a sticky issue. In the area of additive fabrication (AF), many “catch-all” terms have been and continue to be used to describe the technology. For many years, rapid prototyping (RP) was a popular term, and rightly so because prototyping has been the most popular application of AF technology. However, it is now only one of many applications. Consequently, a growing number of people are using terms such as additive fabrication or additive manufacturing when referring to the group of processes (e.g., fused deposition modeling, 3DP from Z Corp., laser sintering, etc.) that build parts layer by layer.


Stratasys and 3D Systems have adopted the term additive fabrication as a catch-all term, although I cannot say whether it has become an official corporate standard at either company. Maybe. The mainstream press—when AF technology is lucky enough to get included—uses 3D printing most frequently. Among industry insiders, 3D printing refers to a group of AF processes that are relatively low cost, easy to use, and office friendly. Some think of the process from Z Corp. when hearing this term, while others may think of PolyJet from Objet Geometries.


I recently conducted an informal, non-scientific survey among the members of the rp-ml (an Internet mail list). I asked, “Which term do you think will become the most popular in 5-7 years? In other words, which catch-all term do you feel has the greatest chance of success as AF works its way more deeply into both technical and consumer markets.” The results are here.


As you can see, there is little agreement when it comes to terminology. It’s all over the place. One conclusion, however, is that “rapid prototyping” is not going to be the catch-all term in the future. It barely made the list. About one-third favored 3D printing, with most others carrying little weight.

1 Comment

  1. I had the same discussion with some fellow students. My experience is that people who don’t know the technology are generally misguided by the term 3D printing because of the strong association with normal paper printers.

    The etymology of printing comes from the French word ‘preindre’ which means to press. Which shows that the term refers to conventional printing techniques. I try to avoid the term 3D printing. (My personal favorite is freeform fabrication.)

    Comment by Bouke — March 18, 2009 @ 03:35