Perhaps you’ve heard of three-dimensional (3D) printing, but are not sure what it really is. It is a process of creating or duplicating a three dimensional object by attaching thin layers of material together. 3D printing is also called “additive manufacturing,” which is a more accurate name for it. This emerging technology can use over 100 different materials to manufacture a 3D object. Most of the common materials are plastic, metal, and nylon.

3D printing was originally developed for the space program. Today, many companies are testing the possibilities. Currently there are many different 3D printers on the market. You can buy one for less than $1000. The less expensive machines are small and use plastic. The smaller the printer the more limited you are as to the size of the objects you can reproduce.

You must have a CAD design of a three dimensional object before you can proceed to manufacture it using a 3D printer. Another option would be to scan an existing object and create a replica. The process is more of a custom manufacturing of objects. 3D Printers are not fast and they are not meant to produce more than a few copies. In addition to standard objects, they can also produce moving parts.

Quick prototypes, manufacturing parts, or making body parts are some of the applications for these printers. 3D printers are hitting every market in all shapes and sizes today, but their real strength for a particular application is yet to be found!