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What Is Additive Manufacturing?

By Jean Marie Asta
Updated May 17, 2024
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Additive manufacturing, sometimes abbreviated as AM, is a process that involves production of parts through successive additions of layers, which is the opposite of traditional subtractive manufacturing, where parts and pieces are removed during construction of a product. There are different ways that the additive manufacturing process is carried out, and an increasingly popular method is 3D printing. Another method includes melting successive layers of materials to create a product. The main benefit of additive manufacturing is that it can create geometrically complex shapes without wasting excess material. Another benefit of the process is that it does not require many tools and is a very cost effective process of manufacturing.

This type of manufacturing is energy efficient as well as environmentally friendly. The materials that are used, especially in 3D printing, end up creating lightweight designs of certain end products. Using additive manufacturing, there is a reduction in physical tools and increased emphasis on spatial design programs that allow engineers more freedom in ideas to design and create certain products without the restraints of traditional machining. There is also the benefit of a reduction in separate parts of a whole product. The technique can even go as far as personalizing certain items for individuals, such as medical devices or clothing.

In additive manufacturing, a computer program is used to create a 3D model of an item, and then separate the image into thin layers. The models can be based on previous items or products that were actually physically sliced to examine the inner workings and fine details. This process allows the computer program to replicate those details and even manipulate them for improvement. By manipulating the details, this additive manufacturing technique allows for the creation of smoothly running items, synchronized parts, and better functioning. Its cost effectiveness also makes this kind of manufacturing beneficial for creating prototypes of certain items.

One of the most famous examples of a 3D printing product is a lightweight, hybrid car made in the United States in 2010 with the collaboration of several manufacturing and engineering groups. The body of the small car, as well as the glass and panels that are part of it, were all created using additive manufacturing. Fused deposition modeling (FDM) was used as its printing method by the company that produced it. Its lightweight design makes the car efficient in gas use, and it was designed with the environment in mind. As an example of how fuel efficient the tiny car is, it only costs two cents for every mile traveled.

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