Why 3D printing is not really printing: a primer on additive manufacturing
By: Ryan Hess & Gary Turner
This article explains the difference between 3D printing and additive manufacturing.
Read time: 6 minutes
Part one in a series on additive manufacturing
Picture the world in 1784.The United States Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris with Great Britain, ending the American Revolution, the Bank of New York (now BNY Mellon) opens as the first bank in the state and Henry Cort invented the puddling furnace, a method for making wrought iron, and a key moment in the first industrial revolution. 
Industry 1.0 ushered in the age of mechanization, replacing handmade processes with machines and centralizing production within a factory setting.
It took nearly 100 years (1870) for the second industrial revolution to arrive. It boasted assembly lines of machine and man leading to the age of mass production.
And then another 100 years (1970) before the third industrial revolution and age of robotics moved in, accompanied by lean manufacturing and the ability to produce goods in mass quantity at affordable prices.
Today’s fourth industrial revolution2 arrived much quicker. The term was first coined in 2016 to describe the age of digital manufacturing, which includes 3D printing.
3D printing versus additive manufacturing
Think of toys, automobiles, kitchen utensils, pedestrian bridges. Name an object and there’s likely someone with a story of how they created it using 3D printing. However, you may be surprised to learn the facts behind the popular term “3D printing.”
The term 3D printing refers to the mechanical processes of manufacturing an object by adding material layer by layer. No printing actually occurs.
The concept of additive manufacturing is a part of a larger concept called direct digital manufacturing. Instead of whittling out a shape that’s needed, as a sculptor does with stone or a router does by removing layers of wood from a plank using subtractive manufacturing, additive manufacturing only uses the feedstock needed for a given project.
Additive manufacturing allows for radical redesigns, organic complex geometry and an ability to minimize waste. The process enables CAD designers to take their concepts and embed them directly into a machine that builds their product layer by layer. Suddenly, manufacturers can build things that were never before possible. This is particularly true in certain industries such as aviation.
It’s all about balance
There’s no denying that traditional manufacturing fulfills a tremendous and ongoing need. Certain items – from yogurt cups to building blocks – that are mass-produced with injection molding will continue to be produced with traditional manufacturing for some time.
Why? From a cost and scale perspective, it doesn’t make sense to do otherwise.
The key now is to recognize when additive manufacturing makes the most sense – from supply chain needs to environmental benefits. To do this, we can refer to the three tenets of the fourth industrial revolution – hyper-local, mass customization and direct digital manufacturing.
In part two of this series, we go a step deeper into each of these tenets. We’ll discuss how additive manufacturing can help meet customer demands, including the desire to source local, personalize and reduce waste, allowing your business to be more competitive and reduce spend.
We hope you’ll be back to continue our journey. In the meantime, you can read more about what Ricoh is doing in additive manufacturing in healthcare.
- 1. https://www.britannica.com/technology/puddling-process
- 2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Industrial_Revolution
- 3. https://manufactur3dmag.com/ge-aviation-produced-its-100000th-3d-printed-fuel-nozzle-tip/
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