4.8 Additive manufacturing
This section is about what is being presented as a new approach to manufacturing things although, as you will see, the novelty comes from the scale on which it is practised rather than the basic idea. The concepts and technologies are not spectacularly new. They started being developed in the 1980s. But it's only since the early years of this century that they have reached the level of maturity that allows them to be considered as mainstream manufacturing processes. And the language used to describe them has evolved over that period along with the techniques. In the early days they were generally described as 'rapid prototyping' or 'RP' methods. That was because they were first used as ways 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'. But the name that has really grabbed the public's imagination is '3D printing'. At the time of writing barely a day goes by without another news article with that in the title.
The USA National Intelligence Council predicted that additive manufacturing will by 2030 advance beyond its current functions of creating models and rapid prototyping in the automotive and aerospace industries to transform how some conventional mass-produced products are fabricated.
But we need a better, less fashionable and more engineering-focused name. So we call this section 'additive manufacturing' because that's what we're doing – manufacturing things by adding solid material selectively to make the shape rather than removing material or forcing material to take up the shape of a separate die or mould.
Here I am going to unravel additive manufacturing in a little more of the detail so that you can begin to think about how this approach introduces new possibilities to the world of manufacturing.