What is Additive Manufacturing?

Additive Manufacturing (AM) is the technologies that build 3D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of material, whether the material is plastic, metal, concrete and etc. AM technologies being the use the 3D modeling software (Computer Aided Design or CAD), machine equipment and layering material. After the CAD drawing, the AM equipment reads in data from the CAD file and adds successive layers of liquid, powder, sheet material in a layer-upon-layer to fabricate a 3D object. AM is being used to fabricate end-use products in aircraft, dental restorations, medical implants, automobiles, and even fashion and food products.

Whereas with conventional manufacturing, materials and manual processing limit production, with additive manufacturing you are limited only by our imagination. As such, AM has proffered a number of added benefits to both products and production:

  • More efficient, more complex production
  • Cheaper production costs
  • Lighter-weight products
  • Products with greater stability
  • Better integration and optimization of features

Examples of Additive Manufacturing (AM)


The first commercial 3D printer was based on a technique called stereolithography. This was invented by Charles Hull in 1984. Stereolithographic 3D printers position a perforated platform just below the surface of a vat of liquid photopolymer. A UV laser beam then traces the first slice of an object on the surface of this liquid, causing a very thin layer of photopolymer to harden. The perforated platform is then lowered very slightly and another slice is traced out and hardened by the laser. Another slice is then created, and then another, until a complete object has been printed and can be removed from the vat of photopolymer, drained of excess liquid, and cured. Stereolithographic printers remain one of the most accurate types of hardware for fabricating 3D output, with a minimum build layer thickness of only 0.06mm (0.0025 of an inch).


FDM process use of thermoplastic (polymer that changes to a liquid upon the application of heat and solidifies to a solid when cooled) materials injected through indexing nozzles onto a platform. The nozzles trace the cross-section pattern for each particular layer with the thermoplastic material hardening prior to the application of the next layer. The process repeats until the build or model is completed.


This involves building a model in a container filled with powder of either starch or plaster based material. An inkjet printer head shuttles applies a small amount of binder to form a layer. Upon application of the binder, a new layer of powder is sweeped over the prior layer with the application of more binder. The process repeats until the model is complete. As the model is supported by loose powder there is no need for support. Additionally, this is the only process that builds in colors.


Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) utilizes a high powered laser to fuse small particles of plastic, metal, ceramic or glass. During the build cycle, the platform on which the build is repositioned, lowering by a single layer thickness. The process repeats until the build or model is completed. Unlike SLA technology, support material is not needed as the build is supported by un-sintered material.