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Additive manufacturing
Additive manufacturing

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1.1 History

In modern times it is relatively rare that an entirely new type of manufacturing is developed, but in the past 20 years, AM has been the process to buck the trend.

Activity 1 Bucking the trend

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

First consider the idea that AM has bucked the trend by being a new manufacturing technology. Then spend a few minutes searching for technologies that have helped AM develop as a viable manufacturing option. Make some notes on a few reasons or related technological advances that have helped this development.

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Your answer may include consideration of technologies such as:

  • CAD and modelling for creating virtual shapes (i.e. digital modelling)
  • materials that can be formed into liquid droplets, wire or powder to create the object
  • a digital control system to lay the material/s layer-by-layer.

The concepts and technologies used in additive manufacturing are not new. They started being developed in the 1980s. But it’s only since the early years of this century that they have reached a maturity that allows them to be considered as part of mainstream manufacturing.

The language used to describe the technology has evolved over that period along with the techniques. In the early days it was generally described as rapid prototyping (RP). That was because it was first used as a way of creating prototype models of designers’ concepts. As the range of applications and the level of sophistication increased, people began to talk of rapid manufacturing.

AM, as a process for producing fully functional components, has become possible owing to advances in the quality of the output produced by machines originally designed for RP (Figure 2). Many parts are now in fact produced in a fully functional, final state and are therefore not prototypes, despite being produced using machines recognisable as rapid prototypers.

Described image
Figure 2 Example of a latest-generation (in 2015) rapid prototyping machine

The basic principles of AM consist of the ability to produce components directly from a computer-aided design (CAD) model, without the need to process or determine the method by which the component can be created. This is generally achieved by slicing a CAD model into layers that are sequentially deposited. The advent of off-the-shelf computing equipment that is capable of slicing a CAD model is a precursor for the adaptation of AM into full-scale manufacturing processes.