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A Name 18+ Years Later

July 11, 2021

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 06:09

In April 2003, this two-paragraph blog post discussed the name of the process used to produce parts additively. Back then, most people used the term “rapid prototyping” to describe this process. It was far from perfect, as stated in the blog post, but it worked reasonably well for many years.

Since then, two terms have become common when referring to additive processes and applications. “Additive manufacturing (AM)” gained a foothold when ASTM Committee F42 on Additive Manufacturing Technologies was formed in 2009. It became the industry standard term and later reinforced when ISO Technical Committee 261 on Additive Manufacturing (ISO/TC 261), launched in 2011, adopted the term.

The second term—3D printing—is more popular, according to Google results, and became a de facto standard term before becoming a formal standard term, as published in the ISO/ASTM 52900 terminology standard. Many use AM and 3D printing interchangeably, although some associate AM with larger and more expensive equipment and production applications.

Thankfully, the AM/3D printing industry has agreed on the use of these two terms. However, many continue to use and confuse many related terms in this industry. Instead of following the ISO/ASTM 52900 standard, they use a mix of words that they may have heard from others or chose to “invent” on their own. This miscommunicates and confuses the message.

Last week, we were working with a Fortune 100 client company who referred to “SLM,” an acronym used in the company name SLM Solutions. (SLM stands for selective laser melting.) Given the context, I thought the client was referring to SLM Solutions, but it was instead referring to metal powder bed fusion, which is an ISO/ASTM 52900 standard term. Fortunately, our communication was clarified, but it could have led to a problem.

Imagine if a mistake like this occurred when considering a proposal, contract, or some other important document. Taken to the extreme, it could lead to a dispute or litigation between two or more organizations. The bottom line is this: use industry standard terminology to help ensure accuracy when communicating.