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Things to know about additive manufacturing

| Editor: Theresa Knell

Additive manufacturing processes are steadily gaining in importance in industrial applications.
Gallery: 3 Pictures
Additive manufacturing processes are steadily gaining in importance in industrial applications. (Source: Pixabay / CC0)

Additive manufacturing is becoming increasingly important both in industry and in research. But in many cases it is unclear what this term actually means. This article provides an introduction to additive manufacturing, how it works, and where it is used.

Additive manufacturing is playing an increasingly important role in the manufacturing industry. Additive manufacturing processes are used above all in toolmaking and prototype construction.

Additive manufacturing: definition and explanation of the principle

Additive manufacturing processes are increasingly being used in production. This manufacturing process is used above all in toolmaking (rapid tooling), in the manufacturing of end products (rapid manufacturing), and in prototype production (rapid prototyping). How can additive manufacturing be classified in terms of manufacturing technologies? Manufacturing technologies are generally based on three pillars:

  • Subtractive Processes (something is removed): Milling, lathing, etc.
  • Formative Processes (a material is redesigned): Casting, forging, etc.
  • Additive Processes (something is added): 3D printing, etc.

Additive manufacturing describes processes in which the part to be produced is constructed by the addition of material. The construction is carried out in layers. This involves two aspects:

1. The component is made up of different layers. Usually the process is carried out from bottom to top. Simply put, it uses the same principle as for the building of sand castles: A new layer is applied to a building platform in order to build a tower.

2. Different processes take place repeatedly in layers (i.e. one after the other). This involves the feeding of the material, the melting (shaping), and finally the bonding with the previous layers. These steps, called the process chain, are the same regardless of which machine is used for additive manufacturing. The only difference is the way the individual layers are created.

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Additive manufacturing thus enables the creation of 3D objects. To make this possible, the machine first requires the 3D design specifications ("three-dimensional CAD") of the part to be produced. The respective data set consists of the outline data (length x, height y), the number of layers (z) and the layer thickness (dz). It is the task of the corresponding computer program to divide the model into suitable layers. The software then transmits the data set to the machine in the form of production instructions, e.g. the printer for 3D metal printing.

Additive manufacturing and 3D Printing are not the same

Definitions for 3D printing sound very similar to the above explanations of additive manufacturing. Nevertheless, it is not correct to use 3D printing as a synonym. Rather, 3D printing is an additive manufacturing process. For this reason, this also applies to 3D metal printing as a type of 3D printing using liquid metal. But there are more than 20 different additive manufacturing technologies. Therefore, the following simple rule of thumb applies: For example, 3D metal printing, which is often used as a generic term for additive manufacturing, is always a form of additive manufacturing. However, additive manufacturing is not always 3D metal printing. It involves more than that: It comprises all additive technologies.

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