Additive manufacturing (AM) (also called solid freeform fabrication (SFF) and 3-D printing) is
|“||the direct fabrication of end-use products and components using technologies that deposit material layer-by-layer. It enables the manufacture of geometrically complex, low to medium volume production components in a range of materials, with little, if any, fixed tooling or manual intervention beyond the initial product design.||”|
Additive manufacturing has existed for decades, but is now receiving increased attention because of its potential to transform the manufacturing industry and how goods are produced, distributed, and sold to consumers. For instance, additive manufacturing could make existing product supply chains more efficient by allowing for more on demand production, which could reduce the need to maintain large product inventories and spare parts, and allow for the localized production of goods closer to consumers.
[A]dditive manufacturing also can reduce the time to design and produce functional parts because it can produce prototypes rapidly without reconfiguring or retooling the manufacturing line, and it can provide the ability to implement new concepts, designs, and innovations quickly.
Additive manufacturing technology opens up new opportunities for the economy and society. It can allow manufacturers to produce some complex parts that cannot be made or are very expensive to make with conventional manufacturing processes. This can enable manufacturers to create better designs that have fewer parts and use less material, which leads to reduced cost.
For example, it can facilitate the production of strong lightweight products for the aerospace industry and it allows designs that were not possible with previous manufacturing techniques. It may revolutionize medicine with biomanufacturing. This technology has the potential to increase the well-being of U.S. citizens and improve energy efficiency in ground and air transportation. However, the adoption and diffusion of this new technology is not instantaneous. With any new technology, new standards, knowledge, and infrastructure are required to facilitate its use.
Organizations such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology can enable the development of these items; thus, it is important to understand the size and extent of the additive manufacturing industry. Although many organizations provide estimates on the size of the industry, they are often not comparable to widely published industry data and statistics.
The do-it-yourself or maker movement has already benefited from the increasing availability of low-cost 3D printers and uses additive manufacturing technology to create a wide variety of items, including jewelry, toys, sculptures, and other artistic products. Additive manufacturing holds the potential for disrupting existing and creating new markets, but the technology is in its relative infancy and it may be years or decades before it reaches levels of confidence comparable to what the industry has with the more familiar conventional manufacturing processes and materials.
- "Overview" section: Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing Research Group (full-text)
- "Overview" section: NIST Special Publication 1163, at 2.
- "Overview" section: 3D Printing: Opportunities, Challenges, and Policy Implications of Additive Manufacturing, at 14, 16-17.