While the technology has been around for three decades, there still is debate in the industry about if 3D printing and additive manufacturing are the same thing or not. Depending on who you ask or your source of information, you’re bound to receive slightly different answers. Some see the difference between 3D printing and additive manufacturing as identical processes with different names, while others see the two as processes as different with inherent similarities.

Both 3D printing and additive manufacturing are based on layer-based manufacturing techniques. Using information from a CAD file, material gets layered sequentially and builds in cross-sections stacked one on top of the other.

3D Printing – provides the ability to build an object one layer at a time. Its early uses are often compared to a 2D inkjet printer. Its applications include, but are not limited to, novelty items and rapid prototyping.

Additive Manufacturing – uses a build-up of metals powders like titanium and cobalt chrome and direct metal laser melting to build highly customizable components.

Consumer vs. Industrial

For some, deciphering the difference between 3D printing and additive manufacturing comes down to who is using the applications, the materials used in the application and the end use product. Simply put, 3D manufacturing provides the ability to create quick prototypes and fun items like chess pieces and figurines. 3D printers are commonly used in the mainstream for personal businesses and library systems. With a little instruction, anyone can create using a 3D printer.

Additive manufacturing includes 3D printing but in a more rigorous and robust process that’s inclusive and associated with industrial applications such as the mass production of components. Additive manufacturing machines also feature an insert for a mold with complex geometries and internal conforming cooling channels that provide an improved surface finish.

The manufacturing method is well-suited to functional prototypes, molds and mold inserts and end-use products through direct metal laser melting. Manufacturers who’ve made the investment in applying additive technologies often see a cost saving over other methods such as CNC machining, injection molding and investment casting.

Strengths of Additive Manufacturing

  • Complements a new approach to design and manufacturing
  • Enables a stronger design-driven manufacturing process
  • Allows highly complex structures to be light, yet stable
  • Offers freedom of design
  • Increased product customization and the ability to manufacture small batch sizes at reasonable unit costs

Decision Time

Both the use of 3D printing and additive manufacturing can help manufacturers reduce assembly times and simplify supply chains. Using both methods together can enhance rapid prototyping, but only continued use and time will determine how manufacturers can best use these additive technologies.

This article is brought to you by the edge prep experts at Mutschler Edge Tech/MET.