Key Differences between 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing

3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing

The 3D printing of metal and plastic products from digital blueprints has become extremely popular in industrial, commercial and personal settings, simply because the printed products are known for being cheaper, lighter in weight, far more customizable and a lot less wasteful than products that are manufactured on traditional production lines. Many people think 3D printing and additive manufacturing are the same, but the differences between them will be discussed below.

Two Entirely Different Processes and Ideas

The standard ISA/ASTM 52900:2015 – Additive Manufacturing – General Principles – Terminology, defines 3D printing and additive manufacturing in the following manner:

  • 3D Printing: “fabrication of objects through the deposition of a material using a print head, nozzle or another printer technology.”
  • Additive Manufacturing (AM): “process of joining materials to make parts from 3D model data, usually layer upon layer.”

In addition, the above mentioned standard defines a 3D printer as a “machine used for printing” and an Additive manufacturing System as a “machine and auxiliary equipment used for additive manufacturing.”

This information clearly shows that these terms indeed refer to completely different ideas. However, the term 3D printing can be used to refer to any process involving the use of 3D printing, including additive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing however refers to a somewhat sophisticated process of 3D printing materials “layer upon layer” and not just the standard process of 3D printing a single regular item. This means that while all additive manufacturing processes are 3D printing, not all 3D printing processes are additive manufacturing.

3D Printing a More Popular Term

Although 3D printing and additive manufacturing are terms that tend to be used interchangeably, additive manufacturing is often the term that is avoided completely – unless mention of it is made in industrial applications. To date, 3D printing is the term that has gained the public’s attention far easier, with people referring to the process of 3D printing even when they are talking about advanced additive manufacturing of parts or other products.

While the label of additive manufacturing is in fact correct for these processes and is regularly used for technical reasons, it was to be expected that during the standardization process that AM-produced substances or materials would end up being referred to as 3D printed materials. The ISO/ASTM 52900:2015 standard even states that the term 3D printing is “often used in a non-technical context synonymously with additive manufacturing.”

At the end of the day though, 3D printing is still a correct term to use when describing either of these processes. However, it is not as precise as that of additive manufacturing when the process of layered 3D printing activities is being referred to.

While the term additive manufacturing tends to be the preferred technical term to use, the use of the Am technique is in fact still quite new. In addition, should AM technology be able to be used in more applications and areas, the current standard terminology can always be changed and thus define itself a bit more distinctively.