What is Additive Manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing refers to the process of fabricating objects one layer at a time. Additive manufacturing (AM) is more popularly known as 3D printing and enables extremely complex objects to be made due to its inherent layer-by-layer process. There are several AM technologies which allow for a wide variety of materials to be fabricated: metal, plastic and ceramic materials can all be 3D printed. Special concrete mixes can also be used in specialized 3D printers to make low-cost structures.
Prior to printing, parts are designed used Computer Aided Design (CAD) software. The CAD files are subsequently converted into a triangular mesh file format known as STL. STL files are used to generate 3D printing toolpaths known as Gcode. It is the Gcode that determines how the layer-by-layer fabrication is performed.
The primary benefits of additively manufacturing a part rather than producing it conventionally include:
Shorter lead times
Lower cost (depending on part type and quantity)
There are several other benefits however, these ones do stand out and often drive adoption.
Additively manufactured parts are often post-processed to obtain a desired look and feel. These parts can be polished, painted, or even dyed. They can also be made to feel smooth and glossy using specific chemical processes.
Overall, the workflow for producing additively manfactured parts is simlar to that for conventional processes like CNC machining. The difference however is that additive manufacturing enables more complex parts to be achieved and can be a more flexible process to work with.