What Is Additive Manufacturing?

Additive manufacturing is changing the way in which manufacturers build and assemble their products. This new-age manufacturing process involves the use of computer-aided design (CAD) software to instruct machines to create 3D objects from base materials. Manufacturers insert base materials into the machine and program the proposed object’s design in CAD software. When executed, the CAD software then guides the machine’s various tools to create the object using those materials.

How Additive Manufacturing Works

Additive manufacturing works by creating 3D objects in layers. Base materials like steel, titanium, plastic, composites, ceramics or even paper are inserted into a machine. A worker then designs the object on a connected computer using CAD software. Upon execution of the additive manufacturing task, the machine deposits small amounts of materials to create fine layers, beginning at the bottom.

The terms “additive manufacturing” and “3D printing” are often used interchangeably. They both refer to the use of CAD software and machines to create 3D objects from base materials. However, additive manufacturing is generally used to describe a more advanced manufacturing technique in which objects are created in layers, whereas 3D printing — available to businesses as well as individuals — is a simpler manufacturing technique that often involves the controlled removal of material to create a 3D object in the desired shape. Some 3D printers also create 3D objects in layers, though many simply reshape a large block or cylinder of material to create a new object.

The Benefits of Additive Manufacturing

There’s a reason why manufacturers are investing in additive manufacturing technology — well, several reasons actually. According to a study published in ScienceDirect, it yields energy savings of 5% to 25% in the aerospace industry and 4% to 21% in the construction industry. Of course, other industries will likely experience energy savings with additive manufacturing as well. When compared to other, conventional manufacturing processes, it uses less energy. In turn, companies can cut costs on energy-related overhead expenses by investing in additive manufacturing technology.

Another benefit of additive manufacturing is increased productivity. A research paper published by HP found that additive manufacturing increases productivity for companies. Once a product design has been created in the CAD software, manufacturers can automate the production process to streamline their operations.

Manufacturers can also reduce waste using additive manufacturing. With conventional manufacturing processes, leftover materials may be discarded as waste. However, many of those same materials can be reused with additive manufacturing to create additional products.