Just What Is 3D Printing?

Additive manufacturing now defines a large branch of industrial (and hobby) systems for creating new parts and products. More commonly referred to as 3D printing, most systems in this category are characterized by their layer-by-layer method of building a part.

There are notably some differences between individual systems, with 10 types of 3D printing existing today. However, the main differences between these and more typical industrial processes can be broken into categories:

  • Speed defines how fast a given part can be manufactured from design to finish.

  • Cost is the average amount of funding needed to create a single part.

  • Quality is a realistic measure of how perfect and precise a part can be made.

  • Consistency is how similar “identical” parts are between separate manufacturing runs.

  • Flexibility defines how easily a design can be customized or modified during manufacture.

  • Accessibility is a rough measure of how easily a person or business can obtain the means to create a part or product.

  • Sustainability is a rough measure of the amount of waste generated by the manufacture of a single part and the ease with which the part can be recycled compared to other processes.