Additive Manufacturing… a novel or ancient technology?

Additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, consists of manufacturing objects from a 3D file, usually layer upon layer, with a radically different approach to subtractive or more traditional manufacturing techniques. It allows producing products with complex geometries, practically impossible with other technologies and producing completely functional, lighter and customized parts, adapted to specific needs or tastes of the clients.
Some advantages that additive manufacturing brings to the products are that it allows the integration of parts reducing time of assembly, allows the reduction of weight by depositing material only where it is needed, and make possible even functionalities improvements by modifying the interior of the components, with internal channels for dissipation of energy or with meso-structures – or lattices – capable to modify the macroscopic properties of a body from those of the base material.
At this point, it is worth to clarify how and when to use the terms 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM). Although they refer to the same technology, additive manufacturing is the most commonly term used to refer to the use of the technology in the industrial field, whereas the term 3D printing uses to be more general and it is more frequently used in consumer goods.
Although it may sound strange in this blog, 3D printing is not a new technology, it emerged in the mid 80’s and it has been used in prototyping in the different phases of development of a product for decades. However, in the last years it has experienced a great growth, due on one hand to the release of patents of the most used processes – FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) and SLA (Stereolithography) – and on the other, because of the development of new processes and materials, including additive manufacturing with metals, which are allowing this manufacturing technology to be incorporated into fully functional final components.
Other relevant advantage of additive manufacturing, in this case looking at the complete product life cycle, is that allows manufacturing just when it is needed and directly at, or close to the point of consumption. No tools, molds and matrixes, nor large warehouses with semi-finished products are required any more. In summary, additive manufacturing allows optimization of stocks, reduction of physical stores and, consequently, immobilized means and capital. In summary, it contributes to the global movement towards sustainability, optimizing the entire production and logistics value chain, both at the home environment and at small and large corporations.