Note: Much of the following was excerpted from Wohlers Report 2022.
Additive manufacturing (AM) as defined by the ISO/ASTM 52900 terminology standard is the process of joining materials to make parts from 3D model data. Usually, material is joined layer upon layer, as opposed to subtractive and formative methods of manufacturing. Other terms for AM include 3D printing, additive fabrication, direct digital manufacturing, freeform fabrication, solid freeform fabrication, rapid manufacturing, and rapid prototyping.
AM is used to build models, prototypes, patterns, tooling, and production parts. The parts are produced using 3D models created by computer-aided design (CAD) software, 3D scanning systems, medical imaging equipment, and even video games. Design and manufacturing organizations use AM parts for products in the consumer, industrial, medical, and military sectors, to name a few. Any industrial sector can benefit from adopting AM.
As a tool for product development, AM can reduce time to market, improve product quality, and reduce costs. Quick product iterations streamline and expedite the product development process. As a visualization tool, AM helps companies reduce the likelihood of delivering a flawed product. 3D-printed models allow companies to gain early feedback from management, experts, customers, and other stakeholders.
AM is increasingly being used to produce final parts. Companies benefit by being able to reduce inventory as AM can produce parts on-demand. The other benefits for AM include enhancing performance, which can include part consolidation, topology optimization, conformal cooling channels, and internal cellular or lattice structures.
A growing number of industrial sectors and geographic regions are adopting AM. Its impact is expected to continue to expand with the introduction of new types of AM machines, materials, applications, workflows, software products, and business models.