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In this post, Deloitte's Mark Cotteleer, Jonathan Holdowsky and Monica Mahto deliver an impressively-detailed primer on additive manufacturing (AM), which is also known as 3D printing. The piece provides a description of the process used in AM, a brief history of AM tracing its path from being used strictly as a prototyping method to use in both prototyping and production, and a discussion of the advantages of AM and traditional manufacturing methods. The piece then takes a deeper dive, looking at the four major AM process techniques and the advantages and disadvantages of each. The piece closes with a look at where AM might be applied, via a chart looking at current and future applications in aerospace, space, automotive, healthcare and consumer products/retail, and a look at future AM opportunities and challenges.
Additive manufacturing (AM) refers to a set of technologies and processes that have been developed over nearly 30 years. ASTM International, a global body recognized in the development and delivery of consensus standards within the manufacturing industry, defines additive manufacturing as:
"A process of joining materials to make objects from 3D model data, usually layer upon layer, as opposed to subtractive manufacturing methodologies.
In common practice, the terms "AM" and "3D printing" are used interchangeably.
AM process flow: Layer-by-layer additive process
The AM process traditionally begins with the creation of a three-dimensional (3D) model through the use of computer-aided design (CAD) software. The CAD-based 3D model is typically saved as a standard tessellation language (.STL) file, which is a triangulated representation of the model. Software then slices the .STL file into individual layers, which are sent as instructions to the AM device. The AM device creates the object by adding layers of material, one on top of the other, until the physical object is created. Once the object is created, a variety of finishing activities may be required. Depending on the material used and the complexity of the product, some parts may need secondary processing, which can include sanding, filing, polishing, curing, material fill, or painting...
Sophisticated 3D scanning and imaging tools are emerging as alternatives for traditional CAD programs. In addition, stylus-based and other design technologies that allow consumers to modify digital models themselves–without the need for extensive CAD experience–are expected to drive growth in the personal AM systems space...