Industry Briefing

February 2013

Additive Manufacturing Process Categories

Many processes are available for additive manufacturing. For a newcomer to the field, or an inexperienced company wanting to purchase parts, the range of possibilities can be overwhelming. In an attempt to differentiate themselves from their competitors, AM system manufacturers have created unique process names. This has contributed to the confusion, as many of the “different” systems essentially employ similar processes and share very similar materials. Clearly, a system to categorize all the AM processes and materials is not only desirable, but necessary to bring organization to the myriad of choices.

In January 2012, ASTM International Committee F42 on Additive Manufacturing Technologies voted on a list of AM process category names and definitions. The committee approved the work, titled “Standard Terminology for Additive Manufacturing Technologies.” The system of process categorization is presented in the following bulleted list. Inevitably, new processes will be invented that do not fit nicely into this system of categorization, and the standard will be revised as necessary to accommodate these new technologies.

The ASTM-approved AM process terms are listed in the following, with the precise wording of their definitions:

  • Material extrusion—an additive manufacturing process in which material is selectively dispensed through a nozzle or orifice
  • Material jetting—an additive manufacturing process in which droplets of build material are selectively deposited
  • Binder jetting—an additive manufacturing process in which a liquid bonding agent is selectively deposited to join powder materials
  • Sheet lamination—an additive manufacturing process in which sheets of material are bonded to form an object
  • Vat photopolymerization—an additive manufacturing process in which liquid photopolymer in a vat is selectively cured by light-activated polymerization
  • Powder bed fusion—an additive manufacturing process in which thermal energy selectively fuses regions of a powder bed
  • Directed energy deposition—an additive manufacturing process in which focused thermal energy is used to fuse materials by melting as the material is being deposited.

Note: The previous information was taken from Wohlers Report 2012, a 287-page global study focusing on the advances in additive manufacturing and 3D printing worldwide. A detailed overview of the report, as well as additional information on the market and industry, are available at http://wohlersassociates.com.

Wohlers Talk: 3D Printing at Retail Stores

Good friend Deon de Beer of Vaal University of Technology told me something in early November 2012 that got my attention. He said that Incredible Connection, a retail chain of consumer electronics and computer stores in South Africa, had purchased many Fabbster personal 3D printers to sell in its stores. The German designed and built Fabbster product is somewhat like other low-cost material extrusion systems, except that the company supplies material in the form of injection-molded “sticks” instead of plastic filament on a spool. Incredible Connection also has stores in Botswana and Namibia.

About a month later, during the EuroMold 2012 trade fair in Frankfurt, Germany, the office supply chain Staples announced that it would make 3D-printing services available in stores in the Netherlands and Belgium beginning in Q1 2013 using Mcor’s IRIS product. The Mcor 3D printer uses a paper lamination process to produce shapes. Over the past year, the company introduced the IRIS product with multi-color printing. This is expected to broaden the range of applications for the Mcor product.

The news from Africa and Europe was surprising. Some may see these developments as being more progressive than what is occurring in the U.S. Maybe, but I would not jump to this conclusion. Organizations in the U.S. are also exploring new channels for reaching new markets. Others are pushing the limits at the high end, especially among aerospace and defense-related organizations. The U.S. is not sitting still.

I wish the very best for Incredible Connection and Staples. It will be interesting to see how average retail customers react to these offerings. I’m not optimistic because I don’t believe the general public is ready for either one. Regardless, I give both companies credit for giving it a shot and for being the first to deliver 3D printing in this way.

Note: Wohlers Talk is a blog that offers views, perspective, and commentary on rapid product development and a wide range of other topics. Nearly 260 commentaries have been published. To view them, go to http://wohlersassociates.com/blog.

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