At first, 3D printing was called additive manufacturing. It actually started back in the 1980s when computers started to become common and accessible to individuals and smaller companies. As computers, printing equipment, and materials have evolved, the use of 3D printing has become much more common in the 21st Century.
Either term – additive manufacturing or 3D printing – describes the process of creating physical products from digital files. The reason the process was first called additive manufacturing is because it involves adding layers of materials until the finished product has been completed. Still, 3D printing is probably an easier term to remember and has caught on. It’s still a pretty good description because the process involves using a sort of “printer” that creates physical objects instead of simply applies ink to paper.
Obviously, the first step is to create a digital model using computer software. In some cases, this model may be created from scratch with modeling software. Very often, the process is assisted by using a scanner to digitize the components of existing objects. This file tells the scanner which materials to use and how to use them.
How Is 3D Printing Used Today?
At first, 3D printing was only used for modeling prototypes. The process was considered too expensive for mass production. Then it expanded to producing infrequently ordered parts where 3D printing made more sense than stocking on shelves.
For instance, parts suppliers may not have wanted to stock parts for older equipment that was outdated. Yet, some of their customers still used this equipment, and the suppliers could use 3D printing to meet this occasional demand and keep their customers satisfied while simply only needing the raw materials on hand to create the product and when needed, just buy filaments in Canada. Even though it might be cheaper to stock one part than to print it, it was cheaper to print one part out of hundreds that could be stocked for rare orders that might arise.
Companies found it better to spend a bit more to keep their customers happy than to tell them that they couldn’t help them.
However, as techniques and equipment have evolved, the use of 3D printing is beginning to change. Of course, 3D printing is still useful to produce quick prototypes. At the same time, all sorts of industries have begun using 3D printing to produce products.
Industries That Rely Upon 3D Printing
The military has begun to explore the use of 3D printing for remote locations where it is easier to supply raw materials and printing equipment than finished products. For instance, soldiers and sailors can produce broken parts this way instead of having to way for the shipment of finished products. Other industries that have begun to use this process include auto makers, building, and even clothing and shoes.
Using digital files and raw materials, such as plastics and metals, manufacturers can generate customized objects at a lower cost than they could do it through traditional manufacturing processes or by hand. This means that the use of 3D printing is likely to become much more common in the future than it is now.