What Are the Different Types of Additive Manufacturing Technology?

Jeremy Laukkonen

There are a number of different additive manufacturing (AM) technologies, which are typically grouped based on the type of raw materials, or the method used to form those materials into finished products. Some of the common raw materials used in these processes include metals, plastics, and other substances in the form of liquids, sheets, powders, and filaments. The most common types of additive manufacturing technology used to process those raw materials include inkjets, aerosol jetting, electron beam melting (EBM), and laser sintering. Some of these methods are found primarily in industrial settings. Other types of additive manufacturing technology, such as inkjet three dimensional (3D) printers, are often found in commercial settings and can even be built by hobbyists.

Sheet metal is a common raw material for additive manufacturing.
Sheet metal is a common raw material for additive manufacturing.

Additive manufacturing is category of processes that construct physical objects based on 3D computer models. This can be contrasted with traditional subtractive manufacturing techniques, such as machining, which involves the removal of material from an object or workpiece until the desired shape has been achieved. There are a number of different types of additive manufacturing technology, each of which is typically designed to make use of a certain class of raw materials. That makes additive manufacturing useful in a number of industries, since different techniques are well suited to the production of many kinds of objects.

3D printers use liquid or powdered plastic to create three-dimensional objects.
3D printers use liquid or powdered plastic to create three-dimensional objects.

One kind of additive manufacturing technology makes use of lasers to sinter metal into a variety of objects. This technology typically involves using a laser to heat metal into a molten pool, after which additional metal is added. The laser is typically worked across the surface of the pool as new material is added, so that a desired object can be sintered out of the molten metal. Some technologies that use this general technique are direct metal laser sintering and selective laser sintering.

Electron beam melting is another additive manufacturing technology that can create metal components. This method uses metal powder, which is melted by an electron beam. The powder is usually melted in a vacuum, and formed into three dimensional shapes layer by layer. Like laser sintering, this method is typically confined to industrial settings.

There are also a number of additive manufacturing technologies that are often used in commercial settings, and even by hobbyists. Inkjet additive manufacturing technology is somewhat similar to traditional inkjet printers, and machines that use the method are called 3D printers. This method typically makes use of liquid or powdered plastic materials, which are applied in thin layers until a three dimensional object has been created. These devices can be used to create finished products, though they are often used for rapid prototyping as well.

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