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Additive Manufacturing 101-3: What is material extrusion?

(Image: 3D Hubs)

Material Extrusion (Image: 3D Hubs)

  Mechanical Design Engineer and Additive Manufacturing Ph.D. student

This is the fourth in a series of original articles that will help you understand the origins of the technology that is commonly called 3D printing. First an introduction, followed by the seven main technologies categories, and then a design philosophy for additive manufacturing.

Material Extrusion

ISO/ASTM definition: “material extrusion, —an additive manufacturing process in which material is selectively dispensed through a nozzle or orifice.”[1]

Material Extrusion can also be known as (in alphabetical order):

➢ Direct Ink Writing or DIW[2]

➢ Extrusion Freeform Fabrication or EFF[3]

➢ Fused Deposition Modeling‎ or FDM® (Stratasys Inc.)[4]

➢ Fused Filament Fabrication or FFF[5]

➢ Glass 3D Printing or G3DP[6]

➢ Liquid Deposition Modeling or LDM[7]

➢ Micropen Writing[8]

➢ Plastic Jet Printing or PJP (3D Systems Corporation)

➢ Robocasting or Robotic Deposition[9], [10]

In 1988, Scott Crump invented a new AM process based on candle wax and a hot glue gun while making a toy for his daughter in the kitchen. The next year he started the company Stratasys, which became one of the largest AM companies in the world. In 2005, in the United Kingdom, Adrian Bowyer at the University of Bath started the RepRap project[5] based on the technology that made Stratasys so successful. His goal was to be able to make use of expiring patents[4] that would make FFF available to everyone, and create an open source 3D printer that was capable of replicating rapidly (RepRap) itself, or at least make as many parts for itself as it could. This first open source printer was released in 2008 and inspired many companies to make their own versions based on the RepRap platform. One company, MakerBot, was founded in 2009 and later acquired by Stratasys in 2013. This open-source design along with the expired patents allowed hundreds of different printer designs and companies to emerge since then. This recent development has contributed to the public’s general awareness of AM technology, even though the core technology started over 30 years ago. Most desktop 3D printers in the world are of this type and are what most people think of when they think 3D printer.

Figure 1: Example of a material Extrusion system’s basic components[11]

The core principle of this technology is that any material that is in a semi-liquid or paste form can be pushed through a nozzle and used to draw the 2D cross-sections of a sliced 3D model. Similar to how a hot glue gun heats a rod of glue and the trigger selectively pushes the material through the nozzle, material extrusion works exactly the same way. The material that is extruded doesn’t need to be plastic or even heated. While the vast majority of these printers use a plastic like ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) or PLA (Polylactic acid), any material that can be pushed through a nozzle (heated or not) and afterwards retain its shape can be used. Other examples include cement[12], chocolate[13], ceramic pastes or slurries[9], metal clays and metal filled plastics[14], ground-up and blended food[15], or even biocompatible organic cellular scaffolding gel[16]. The technology is scalable and is only limited by nozzle size and supporting machine structure. This supporting machine structure can take many different shapes such as a delta robot configuration or multi-jointed robot arms[17]. This printer structure can also be built using traditional scaffolding structures to create some of the largest printers in the world. Two examples are a 2014 Chinese built 12m x 12m x 12m printer in the city of Qingdao, and a 2016 12m tall delta printer in the Italian town of Massa Lombarda, both of which are large enough to print a small house. There are plans to build printers that move on a rail system enabling an almost infinite build length in one direction[18]. Multiple print heads can be installed on the same machine thus enabling multi-material printing, but there can be challenges with calibration between heads; thus, more than 2 heads on a machine is rare.The greatest advantage of this process is the extensive range of materials it can use. Almost all types of thermoplastics can be used, from the standard plastics like ABS to more engineering plastic grades like nylon, all the way up to advanced engineering plastics like polyether ether ketone also known as PEEK. These plastics have superior dimensional stability and can be used as actual end-use parts like in the Boeing 787 where many parts (mostly air ducting) are 3D printed from FDM processes. The mechanics of this type of printing are fairly simple and easy to modify especially due to the availability of open source designs; thus people have taken these principles to print anything that can fit into a syringe or that can be made into a filament.Some disadvantages are that this process is slow as only one nozzle operates at a time and the entire layer must be subdivided into actual tool paths to trace out the whole 2D slice. This tool path causes the fill factor to be less than 100% due to geometric constraints and nozzle diameter[19]. Parts generally have anisotropic material properties, and the same part can exhibit different strengths depending on how it was printed[19]. Layer heights are generally larger than other AM processes and are thus more visible and contribute to a higher surface roughness. Support materials and structures need to be used, otherwise, considerable sagging can occur depending on geometry. Removing these supports is either a manual and labour intensive process, or a process which requires dissolving and rinsing of parts in a chemical bath of some sort. Generally, only one material is used, with one main material and one support material being quite common. Anything more than one material and support is rare, it usually requires specialised print heads or specialised calibration techniques.


[1] “ISO/ASTM 52900:2015(en), Additive manufacturing — General principles — Terminology,” International Organization for Standardization (ISO), Geneva, Switzerland, 2015.

[2] Lewis J. A. and Gratson G. M., “Direct writing in three dimensions,” Materials Today, vol. 7, no. 7–8, pp. 32–39, Jul. 2004.

[3] Calvert P. D., Frechette J., and Souvignier C., “Gel mineralization as a Model for Bone Formation,” in MRS Proceedings, San Francisco, California, USA, 1998, vol. 520, pp. 305–401.

[4] Crump S. S., “Apparatus and method for creating three-dimensional objects,” U.S. Patent 5,121,329, 09-Jun-1992.

[5] Jones R., Haufe P., Sells E., Iravani P., Olliver V., Palmer C., and Bowyer A., “RepRap – the replicating rapid prototyper,” Robotica, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 177–191, Jan. 2011.

[6] Klein J., Stern M., Franchin G., Kayser M., Inamura C., Dave S., Weaver J. C., Houk P., Colombo P., Yang M., and Oxman N., “Additive Manufacturing of Optically Transparent Glass,” 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 92–105, Sep. 2015.

[7] Postiglione G., Natale G., Griffini G., Levi M., and Turri S., “Conductive 3D microstructures by direct 3D printing of polymer/carbon nanotube nanocomposites via liquid deposition modeling,” Composites Part A: Applied Science and Manufacturing, vol. 76, pp. 110–114, Sep. 2015.

[8] Morissette S. L., Lewis J. A., Clem P. G., Cesarano III J., and Dimos D. B., “Direct-Write Fabrication of Pb(Nb,Zr,Ti)O 3 Devices: Influence of Paste Rheology on Print Morphology and Component Properties,” Journal of the American Ceramic Society, vol. 84, no. 11, pp. 2462–2468, Nov. 2001.

[9] Cesarano III J., Segalman R., and Calvert P. D., “Robocasting provides moldless fabrication from slurry deposition,” Ceramic Industry, vol. 148, no. 4, Business News Publishing, Troy, Michigan, USA, pp. 94–100, 1998.

[10] Cesarano III J. and Calvert P. D., “Freeforming objects with low-binder slurry,” U.S. Patent 6,027,326, 22-Feb-2000.

[11] Gibson I., Rosen D. W., and Stucker B., Additive Manufacturing Technologies. Boston, MA: Springer US, 2010.

[12] Khoshnevis B., “Automated construction by contour crafting—related robotics and information technologies,” Automation in Construction, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 5–19, Jan. 2004.

[13] Li P., Mellor S., Griffin J., Waelde C., Hao L., and Everson R., “Intellectual property and 3D printing: a case study on 3D chocolate printing,” Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 322–332, Apr. 2014.

[14] Nickels L., “Crowdfunding metallurgy,” Metal Powder Report, Nov. 2015.

[15] Periard D., Schaal N., Schaal M., Malone E., and Lipson H., “Printing Food,” in Proceedings of the 18th Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium (SFF), Austin, Texas, USA, 2007, pp. 564–574.

[16] Mironov V., Boland T., Trusk T., Forgacs G., and Markwald R. R., “Organ printing: computer-aided jet-based 3D tissue engineering,” Trends in Biotechnology, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 157–161, Apr. 2003.

[17] Song X., Pan Y., and Chen Y., “Development of a Low-Cost Parallel Kinematic Machine for Multidirectional Additive Manufacturing,” Journal of Manufacturing Science and Engineering, vol. 137, no. 2, p. 21005, Apr. 2015.

[18] Khoshnevis B., Bodiford M., Burks K., Ethridge E., Tucker D., Kim W., Toutanji H., and Fiske M., “Lunar Contour Crafting – A Novel Technique for ISRU-Based Habitat Development,” in 43rd American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Aerospace Sciences Meeting and Exhibit, Reno, Nevada, USA, 2005, vol. 13(1), no. January, pp. 5–19.

[19] Bagsik A. and Schöoppner V., “Mechanical Properties of Fused Deposition Modeling Parts Manufactured with ULTEM 9085,” in Proceedings of the 69th Annual Technical Conference of the Society of Plastics Engineers 2011 (ANTEC 2011), Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 2011, pp. 1294–1298.

Additive Manufacturing 101-2: What is directed energy deposition?

(Image: 3D Hubs)

Directed Energy Deposition (Image: 3D Hubs)

  Mechanical Design Engineer and Additive Manufacturing Ph.D. student

This is the third in a series of original articles that will help you understand the origins of the technology that is commonly called 3D printing. First an introduction, followed by the seven main technologies categories, and then a design philosophy for additive manufacturing.

Directed Energy Deposition

ISO/ASTM definition: “directed energy deposition, —an additive manufacturing process in which focused thermal energy is used to fuse materials by melting as they are being deposited. “Focused thermal energy” means that an energy source (e.g., laser, electron beam, or plasma arc) is focused to melt the materials being deposited.”[1]

Directed Energy Deposition or DED can also be known as (in alphabetical order):

➢   3D Laser Cladding[2]

➢   Cold Gas Dynamic Spray[3]*

➢   Cold Spray[4]*

➢   Direct Laser Deposition or DLD[5]

➢   Direct Laser Fabrication[5]

➢   Direct Metal Deposition or DMD® (DM3D Technology, LLC)[5]

➢   Directed Light Fabrication or DLF[5]

➢   Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing or EBAM ™ (Sciaky, Inc.)

➢   Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication or EBF3[6]

➢   Focused Ion Beam Direct Writing or FIBDW[7]

➢   Metal Powder Application or MPA (Hermle Maschinenbau GmbH)

➢   Laser Chemical Vapor Deposition or LCVD[8]

➢   Laser Consolidation or LC [9]

➢   Laser Deposition Welding[10]

➢   Laser Engineered Net Shaping or LENS® (Sandia National Labs)[5], [11]

➢   Laser Metal/Melting Deposition or LMD[5]

➢   Laser Powder Forming[12]

➢   Laser Rapid Forming[5]

➢   Powder Fusion Welding[13]

➢   Shape Welding[14]

➢   Shape Deposition Manufacturing or SDM[15]

➢   Three-Dimensional Welding[16]

➢   Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing or WAAM[17]

*An additive manufacturing process in which kinetic energy is used to fuse materials by plastic deformation as they are being deposited. “Kinetic energy” means the energy contained by the material that is being deposited at high velocity and is released at the time the material contacts a solid surface.

From 1994-1997 in New Mexico USA, Sandia National Laboratories developed a new AM technology which they called LENS. It differed quite a bit from all other AM technologies at the time and spawned a number of similar processes like DMD, which was commercialized in 2002 by POM Group based in Michigan USA. These other processes use many different names in an attempt to differentiate themselves; DLD, LC, LMD, DLF and more, but can be understood the same as LENS. LCVD is a completely different process from LENS and has its origins in the 1980s, but it wasn’t used to build actual 3D parts until the early 1990s. Three-dimensional welding has its roots in 1960s Germany where parts were built up using welders, but it wasn’t specifically used in AM until in the 1990s[14]. In 2002, engineers at NASA developed a system that uses electron beams and solid wire feedstock to create parts that could potentially be made in space without gravity called EBF3. Since 2013 researchers have been investigating the use of cold spray techniques in AM as an alternative to thermally based fusion methods.


Figure 1: Example of a directed energy deposition system’s basic components, LENS (top) and EBF3 (below)[18]

Directed energy deposition processes look very different between each method, but the premise is the same in each case. First, there is a focused area of intense energy, usually a thermal energy source like a laser, electron beam, or TIG welding torch. A feedstock material is introduced into that intense energy area causing it to bond to the surrounding material. This feedstock can be introduced either through blowing powder into that area like with the LENS or cold spray process, by pushing a solid wire into that area like with EBF3 and WAAM, or by introducing a special gas into the build chamber like with LCVD or FIBDW. The bonding mechanism varies in each process as well. In LENS and related methods, the powder enters into a melted pool of material and initially sticks to it and then melts to join the melt pool which will then cool and solidify. With EBF3 and WAAM, the wire melts and binds to the previous layers and then cools and solidifies. With LCVD and FIBDW, either a laser or an ion beam heats a spot on the build surface to a high enough temperature to thermally decompose a halide gas compound. This special gas then deposits half of itself onto the build surface, while the other half combines with a reducing chemical in the air like hydrogen to form a secondary gas compound. With the cold spray process, material is deposited at very high velocities onto the build surface and then plastically deforms and bonds onto the part.

Several different processes fall into this category, so advantages depend on the process. With the powder blowing method, powders can be changed or mixed mid-build thus creating multiple materials in a build, even creating a gradient between two different materials in the same build. This can also occur in LCVD or FIBDW by evacuating the build chamber from one gas, and putting in a different one thus making multiple materials possible. LENS type processes are able to aid in the repair of damaged parts that normally could not have been repaired using traditional methods. It can roughly add material to the damaged areas which are then cleaned up and machined to tolerance afterwards. Some of these processes like EBF3 and WAAM can also be used to develop near net shape parts that can then be machined to final tolerance without the traditional waste associated with subtractive manufacturing from a solid block. Some of these processes can also be used in space without the need for gravity like EBF3 and cold spray.

Again disadvantages range between processes. All of these processes require material to be deposited one spot at a time, and cannot do entire layers all at one time; tool paths are needed to complete each layer. Consequently build speeds are limited and somewhat slow. LCVD is especially slow due to the decomposition process and limited material deposited by it. These processes do not lend themselves to create support structures, so certain geometries with overhangs may not be created. Resolutions are generally very low and have a rough surface finish that may need post-processing like machining to get tight tolerances.


[1]    “ISO/ASTM 52900:2015(en), Additive manufacturing — General principles — Terminology,” International Organization for Standardization (ISO), Geneva, Switzerland, 2015.

[2]    Murphy M. L., Steen W. M., and Lee C., “The Rapid Manufacture of Metallic Components by Laser Surface Cladding,” in Proceedings of the Laser Assisted Net Shape Engineering Conference (LANE’94), Erlangen, Germany, 1994, vol. 2, pp. 803–814.

[3]    Sova A., Grigoriev S., Okunkova A., and Smurov I., “Potential of cold gas dynamic spray as additive manufacturing technology,” The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology, vol. 69, no. 9–12, pp. 2269–2278, Dec. 2013.

[4]    Lupoi R. and O’Neill W., “Deposition of metallic coatings on polymer surfaces using cold spray,” Surface and Coatings Technology, vol. 205, no. 7, pp. 2167–2173, Dec. 2010.

[5]    Gu D. D., Meiners W., Wissenbach K., and Poprawe R., “Laser additive manufacturing of metallic components: materials, processes and mechanisms,” International Materials Reviews, vol. 57, no. 3, pp. 133–164, May 2012.

[6]    Taminger K. M. and Hafley R. A., “Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication for Cost Effective Near-Net Shape Manufacturing,” in Specialists’ Meeting on Cost Effective Manufacture via Net Shape Processing (NATO/RTO AVT-139), Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 2006, p. 16:1-10.

[7]    Matsui S., Kaito T., Fujita J., Komuro M., Kanda K., and Haruyama Y., “Three-dimensional nanostructure fabrication by focused-ion-beam chemical vapor deposition,” Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology B: Microelectronics and Nanometer Structures, vol. 18, pp. 3181–3184, 2000.

[8]    Williams K., Maxwell J., Larsson K., and Boman M., “Freeform fabrication of functional microsolenoids, electromagnets and helical springs using high-pressure laser chemical vapor deposition,” in Proceedings of the 12th IEEE International Conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS ’99), Orlando, Florida, USA, 1999, pp. 232–237.

[9]    Xue L. and Islam M. U., “Laser Consolidation – A Novel One-Step Manufacturing Process for Making Net-Shape Functional Components,” in Specialists’ Meeting on Cost Effective Manufacture via Net Shape Processing (NATO/RTO AVT-139), Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 2006, p. 15:1-14.

[10]  Kaierle S., Barroi A., Noelke C., Hermsdorf J., Overmeyer L., and Haferkamp H., “Review on Laser Deposition Welding: From Micro to Macro,” Physics Procedia, vol. 39, pp. 336–345, 2012.

[11]  Griffith M. L., Keicher D. M., Atwood C. L., Romero J. A., Smugeresky J. E., Harwell L. D., and Greene D. L., “Free Form Fabrication of Metallic Components Using Laser Engineered Net Shaping (LENS),” in Proceedings of the 7th Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium (SFF), Austin, Texas, USA, 1996, pp. 125–132.

[12]  Liu Q., Leu M. C., and Schmitt S. M., “Rapid prototyping in dentistry: technology and application,” The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology, vol. 29, no. 3–4, pp. 317–335, Jun. 2006.

[13]  Bohrer M., Basalka H., Birner W., Emiljanow K., Goede M., and Czerner S., “Turbine blade repair with laser powder fusion welding and shape recognition,” in Proceedings of the 2002 International Conference on Metal Powder Deposition for Rapid Manufacturing, San Antonio, Texas, USA, 2002, pp. 142–150.

[14]  Dickens P. M., Pridham M. S., Cobb R. C., Gibson I., and Dixon G., “Rapid Prototyping Using 3D Welding,” in Proceedings of the 3rd Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium (SFF), Austin, Texas, USA, 1992, pp. 280–290.

[15]  Fessler J., Nickel A., Link G., Prinz F., and Fussell P., “Functional gradient metallic prototypes through shape deposition manufacturing,” in Proceedings of the 8th Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium (SFF), Austin, Texas, USA, 1997, pp. 521–528.

[16]  Spencer J. D., Dickens P. M., and Wykes C. M., “Rapid prototyping of metal parts by three-dimensional welding,” Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part B: Journal of Engineering Manufacture, vol. 212, no. 3, pp. 175–182, Jan. 1998.

[17]  Wang F., Williams S., Colegrove P., and Antonysamy A. a., “Microstructure and Mechanical Properties of Wire and Arc Additive Manufactured Ti-6Al-4V,” Metallurgical and Materials Transactions A, vol. 44, no. 2, pp. 968–977, Feb. 2013.

[18]  Frazier W. E., “Metal Additive Manufacturing: A Review,” Journal of Materials Engineering and Performance, vol. 23, no. 6, pp. 1917–1928, Jun. 2014.

Additive Manufacturing 101-1: What is binder jetting?

(Image: 3D Hubs)

Binder Jetting (Image: 3D Hubs)

  Mechanical Design Engineer and Additive Manufacturing Ph.D. student

This is the second in a series of original articles that will help you understand the origins of the technology that is commonly called 3D printing. First an introduction, followed by the seven main technologies categories, and then a design philosophy for additive manufacturing.

Binder Jetting

ISO/ASTM definition: “binder jetting, —an additive manufacturing process in which a liquid bonding agent is selectively deposited to join powder materials.”[1]

Binder Jetting can also be known as (in alphabetical order):

➢   Three Dimensional Printing or 3DP[2,3]

➢   ColorJet Printing or CJP (3D Systems Corporation)

➢   Digital Metal® (Höganäs AB)

➢   Ink Jet Printing or IJP[4]

➢   Multi Jet Fusion™ (Hewlett-Packard Development Company)

➢   Plaster-based 3D Printing or PP[5]

➢   Powder Bed And Inkjet Head 3D Printing or PBIH[5]

➢   ZPrinting[6]

In 1989, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed a process called 3D printing[2,3] and in 1993 licensed it to a number of different companies. These included ZCorp in 1994 (later acquired by 3D Systems in 2011) and Ex One in 1996. In 2014 traditional 2D printer company HP developed a new method of binder jetting with an integrated heater claiming a 10-time speed increase over other AM technologies like laser sintering[7]. Even though binder jetting isn’t the first AM technology to be invented (as that distinction goes to Stereolithography), it has been known as 3D printing the longest. This leads to minor confusion as most instances of 3D printing talked about in the media do not actually mean the binder jetting process, but rather AM in general.

Example of Binder Jetting

Example of a binder jetting system’s basic components. From: Additive Manufacturing Technologies [8]

This process most resembles traditional 2D printing. First, rather than printing onto a sheet of paper, a thin layer of loose powder between 0.05mm and 0.5mm is smoothly spread flat over a build platform. Then a traditional inkjet print head moves back and forth over this powder and deposits a binding material rather than an ink onto the areas that are to be made solid. This clear or coloured binder is initially a liquid and causes the powder material to bind together usually involving a chemical reaction. This chemical reaction depends on the method and materials used and occurs either when the binder comes into contact with the raw powder, comes in contact with the air and evaporates, contacts another chemical that is mixed into the powder or is activated by heat. In the next stage of printing the build platform changes height, a new layer of powder is deposited, and the process is repeated layer by layer until the part is complete. The print heads used are exactly the same types that exist in 2D printers, namely piezoelectric or thermal print heads. These print heads require the binder to exhibit similar properties to the original ink. Typically, the binder needs to be a low viscosity (usually in the tens of centipoise range) so that it can be jetted through the very small nozzles located in the print head. A piezoelectric print head has a piezoelectric mechanism connected to a diaphragm which pushes material out of the nozzle to form a droplet. Thermal print heads are also known as bubble jet print heads since a thermal heating element starts to boil the binder which rapidly forms bubbles in the print head chamber which cause the binder to be pushed out of the nozzle and form a droplet. In the case of the new HP process, a heat activated binding agent is initially applied with a detailing agent being applied before the heat which neutralizes any potential binding resulting in a very clear separation of fused and unfused material which yields a nicer surface finish. Because HP’s binder is heat activated, the resulting parts have slightly higher material strength than normal binder jetted parts.Advantages of this process are that the materials and binders used can be very inexpensive, which allows a very low cost per part. Traditionally a gypsum powder[9] and water/alcohol mix were some of the very first powder/binder combinations, but now a variety of materials can be printed such as metals like stainless steel alloys[10] and copper[11], plastics[12], and glass[13]. Parts can be also created very quickly; nearly at the same speeds a 2D printer is able to print paper. Print heads can also be combined and different colours can be added to the binders in order to create full-colour 3D printed parts. Due to laying down material over the entire build platform at once, there is no need for support structures. This process is also scalable to produce large build envelopes, such as with the Exerial™ machine from ExOne which has a build envelope of 2.2m x 1.2x x 0.7m. It is used in creating sand cores and molds for casting and allows the mass production of traditional castings using AM technology.Disadvantages include a very weak final part, especially when no external energy like heat is used to bind parts. These green parts generally need to be post-processed by infusing them with another material like Cyanoacrylate glue or bronze to give the final part more strength. Parts that are not infused are also not very dense, and if made from metal, are usually sintered in an oven to give some additional strength without adding other materials. Depowdering a part (taking the final part out of the powder bed build area) can be very messy. Also as the powder is very fine and can be an inhalation hazard; special respiratory equipment is usually needed.


[1]    ISO/ASTM 52900:2015(en), Additive manufacturing — General principles — Terminology, International Organization for Standardization (ISO), Geneva, Switzerland, 2015. https://www.iso.org/obp/ui/#iso:std:69669:en (accessed December 17, 2015).

[2]    E.M. Sachs, J.S. Haggerty, M.J. Cima, P.A. Williams, Three-dimensional printing techniques, U.S. Patent 5,204,055, 1993. https://www.google.com/patents/US5204055.

[3]    M.J. Cima, E.M. Sachs, T. Fan, J.F. Bredt, S.P. Michaels, S. Khanuja, A. Lauder, S.-J.J. Lee, D. Brancazio, A. Curodeau, H. Tuerck, Three-dimensional printing techniques, U.S. Patent 5,387,380, 1995. https://www.google.com/patents/US5387380.

[4]    E.M. Sachs, M.J. Cima, P. Williams, D. Brancazio, J. Cornie, Three Dimensional Printing: Rapid Tooling and Prototypes Directly from a CAD Model, Journal of Engineering for Industry. 114 (1992) 481. doi:10.1115/1.2900701.

[5]    M. Cotteleer, J. Holdowsky, M. Mahto, The 3D opportunity primer: The basics of additive manufacturing, Deloitte University Press, Westlake, Texas, USA, 2014. http://dupress.com/articles/the-3d-opportunity-primer-the-basics-of-additive-manufacturing/ (accessed May 18, 2016).

[6]    M. Iliescu, E. Nutu, K. Tabeshfar, C. Ispas, Z Printing Rapid Prototyping Technique and Solidworks Simulation: Major Tools in New Product Design, in: Proceedings of the 2Nd WSEAS International Conference on Sensors, and Signals and Visualization, Imaging and Simulation and Materials Science, World Scientific and Engineering Academy and Society (WSEAS), Stevens Point, Wisconsin, USA, 2009: pp. 148–153. http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1736242.1736269.

[7]    HP, HP Multi Jet Fusion technology, HP Development Company, L.P., 2015. http://www8.hp.com/h20195/v2/GetDocument.aspx?docname=4AA5-5472ENW.

[8]    I. Gibson, D.W. Rosen, B. Stucker, Additive Manufacturing Technologies, Springer US, Boston, MA, 2010. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-1120-9.

[9]    R. Bogue, 3D printing: the dawn of a new era in manufacturing?, Assembly Automation. 33 (2013) 307–311. doi:10.1108/AA-06-2013-055.

[10]  S.P. Michaels, E.M. Sachs, M.J. Cima, Metal Parts Generation by Three-Dimensional Printing, in: Proceedings of the 3rd Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium (SFF), Austin, Texas, USA, 1992: pp. 244–250. http://sffsymposium.engr.utexas.edu/Manuscripts/1992/1992-28-Michaels.pdf.

[11]  Y. Bai, C.B. Williams, An exploration of binder jetting of copper, Rapid Prototyping Journal. 21 (2015) 177–185. doi:10.1108/RPJ-12-2014-0180.

[12]  3D Systems Corporation, 3D Systems First to Deliver ProJet® 4500 Full-color Plastic 3D Printer, [Online Press Release]. (2013). http://www.3dsystems.com/press-releases/3d-systems-first-deliver-projetr-4500-full-color-plastic-3d-printer (accessed January 15, 2016).

[13]  G. Marchelli, R. Prabhakar, D. Storti, M. Ganter, The guide to glass 3D printing: developments, methods, diagnostics and results, Rapid Prototyping Journal. 17 (2011) 187–194. doi:10.1108/13552541111124761.

Additive Manufacturing 101: What is it?

Image: Centre for Additive Manufacturing - The University of Nottingham

Image: Centre for Additive Manufacturing – The University of Nottingham

  Mechanical Design Engineer and Additive Manufacturing Ph.D. student

This is a series of original articles that will help you understand the origins of the technology that is commonly called 3D printing. First an introduction, followed by the seven main technologies categories, and then a design philosophy for additive manufacturing.


Additive manufacturing (AM) has been called the next Industrial revolution[1]–[3]. It is a recent technology that encompasses a wide range of different processes and materials. It is changing industries like aerospace by adjusting how engineers think about designing complex parts[4]–[6]. This revolution can take designs that have gone unchanged for decades and improve them.

AM was first conceived of in the 1970s with the first parts made in the 1980s and has had many names over the years.

  • Layer manufacturing or LM[7]
  • Rapid manufacturing or RM[8]
  • Rapid tooling[7]
  • Rapid prototyping or RP[8]
  • Laser rapid prototyping[9]
  • Solid freeform fabrication or SFF[10]
  • Direct digital manufacturing or DDM[11]
  • 3D printing or 3DP[12]

Initially, AM was used as a tool to create prototypes much more rapidly than could be done by other means and aided in the development of bringing new products to market[13], [14]. It then helped create tooling, tooling inserts, jigs and fixtures that were used in the manufacturing of end-use parts[7], [8]. It has continued to evolve and now is being used in making end-use parts such as low-volume production plastic casings, high-end consumer in-ear music monitors, GE LEAP jet engine fuel nozzles, and SpaceX SuperDraco rocket engine chambers and Falcon 9 main oxidizer valve bodies which have gone into space.

While AM has been around for three decades, it has yet to be utilized in the manufacturing of electric motors. Since the late 1800s, electric motors have seen only a small number of improvements, most of which have come from new and improved materials and new manufacturing techniques[15]–[18]. Yet the core design of motors has been relatively unchanged [19]–[21]. There is an evident opportunity to research how AM can change electric motor design. AM has the potential to produce new electric motors that can increase motor efficiencies and power densities.

Review of Additive Manufacturing

There are many different types of AM processes. Each has specific strengths and capabilities with unique areas of specialization. Regardless of the process, there are some fundamental principles that all follow.

Subtractive manufacturing usually starts out with a solid chunk of material that is larger than the final desired shape or part. Then using different tools, material is removed (or subtracted) until the final shape or part is achieved. It is important to note that casting is not considered additive or subtractive, but rather a formative process, as an existing mould or pattern is needed to create the final part.

Compared to subtractive, AM works in the opposite way. Instead of removing material to get the final desired shape or part, material is added to a build platform bit by bit. Most forms of AM follow these basic steps:

  1. Take a 3D model
  2. Slice model into layers and generate computer code
  3. Print first 2D slice and supports (if needed)
  4. Increment height
  5. Print next layer
  6. Repeat steps 4-5 until finished
  7. Post process (if needed)

A minor exception to these steps is when an AM process can deposit material in three-dimensional space. It is then not limited to just printing 2D layers one at a time[22]–[25]. AM can be a faster and more economical way to make parts, especially when the part is complex and/or made from an expensive material. These steps are still quite broad and have many details that can provide deeper insight.

AM process steps

Step 1: 3D model

The process begins with a computer-generated 3D model of the desired final part. The model needs to be capable of being printed, which means that it needs to occupy a defined volume. The part can’t be a single surface with a wall thickness of zero. Once it has thickness and volume, it then needs to be an enclosed watertight solid. This means that if water is put in the interior volume of the model, there are no holes from the inside volume to the outside surface. Even objects like a Möbius band or Klein bottle[26] can be printed as long as the single surface is thickened to have a defined watertight volume.

Figure 1: Klein bottle and Mobius band show a surface with no thickness[26]

Once the model is generated correctly, it needs to be saved to a specific file format. These specific file formats are needed in order for it to be prepared properly for printing. Thus it needs to be saved as either an STL file[27], AMF file[28] or 3MF file[29]. The STL file format has been the de facto standard since it was created in the late 1980s. However, it does have limitations which cause some problems. It does not store the units of measurement of the original model so they need to be assumed. Also, the file size becomes very large when trying to save a model with a high level of surface curvature. In response to these limitations, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) introduced the AMF file format in 2011. Then in 2013, Microsoft intended to do the same with its own 3MF format. This format became natively supported in all Windows operating systems since Windows 8.1. 3MF has since garnered considerable support from large companies such as HP, 3D Systems, Stratasys, GE, Siemens, Autodesk and Dassault Systems although it is unknown how many actively use this file format. Thus STL is still the file format of choice for almost all 3D printing. However, a newly signed liaison agreement between ASTM and the 3MF Consortium may bridge some differences between AMF and 3MF and create one new standard file format to replace STL.

Step 2: Prepare for printing

Secondly, special software is needed to turn that 3D model into data that a 3D printer can recognize and use. This usually involves cutting or slicing the model into many digital layers. Each layer is then converted into either a 2D image or into a set of 2D tool paths. The spacing between these slices will determine the printed thickness of the layers that will be seen in the final part. These layers partially determine the final surface quality and surface roughness of the final part, as well as how long the part will take to print. This height is an important compromise between print speed and surface quality, thus they are generally very thin. An average across several processes is around 100 µm or 0.1mm[11]. Depending on the AM process, the range of layer heights is vast. In two-photon polymerization, layer features as small as 40nm or 0.00004mm[30] can be created which is smaller than the wavelength of ultraviolet light[31]. Microwave sintering can create layers up to 5cm or 50mm in depth[32]. Regardless, when working in a process, the thicker the layer, the faster the build speed but the rougher the exterior becomes. Hence layer height is a trade-off between speed and quality.

Figure 2: T shaped structure with supports[33]

Depending on the geometry of the model and the AM process involved, support structures may be needed[11]. These support structures anchor overhanging areas of the final part to the build platform or other solid portions of the part. Imagine printing a 3D letter “T” starting from the bottom moving up to the top. The 3D printer would be able to print the main body of the letter without any issue. But as soon as it gets to the top, it would have a significant challenge to print the rest properly. The reason being there is nothing that would support the outreached arms of the letter. Thus some type of support structure is needed to be built up at the same time as the main body. When it reaches the point to print the arms, it would then be able to print on top of the main body and the support structure. An alternative option is to design the part for AM so that it does not need supports. For example, if the arms of the “T” were angled upward from the main body, the main body then becomes the support structure. The part would look more like the letter “Y”. Thus the letter Y could be considered a 3D print-optimized version of the letter T that doesn’t need support.

Steps 3-6: Printing

The specifics of printing depend on the process involved and will be described in much more detail further on in the report. Regardless, the 3D printer uses the computer code generated in the previous step to create an initial solid layer of material onto a build surface. The build surface could be a solid platform onto which the part is printed or a layer of unsolidified material that will support the part. This first layer is the first slice of the original 3D model that was calculated by the computer software in step two. Once the first layer is printed, the machine increments to the next height ready to print the next layer. This new height corresponds to the second slice of the original 3D model. The printer then creates a new solid layer based on that second slice. This new solid layer bonds to the previous layer making it one solid piece. The process repeats layer by layer until the final layer is finished. If the bonds between layers are weak, the build could fail or result in a structurally weak part. These anisotropic material properties can manifest as a weaker bond between layers than within layers[34]–[36] but can lead to beneficial properties for magnetic applications[37]. There are some processes strategies[38], [39] and research projects[40] that are addressing this concern with strength.

Step 7: Post-process

Finally, once a part is finished, it is removed from the build chamber and post-processed. This post process could take any number of forms. Some processes require removing support materials[8], [41]. A few need to post cure the material to ensure a fully solid part[42]. Laser melted parts need heat treating to relieve internal stresses that build up in the build process[43]. Binder jetted parts can be placed in an oven to remove a sacrificial binder used in printing. Others are placed in ovens and sintered to increase the strength and density of the part[44]. Infiltrants like glues or metals can be added to give more strength and higher density to the part[42], [44]. Parts can undergo a chemical reaction to change the material for different material properties[45]. Parts can be smoothed by chemicals[42], by blasting or tumbling to remove layer lines. Or parts can have some artistic flourish through hand painting, hydrographics[46], or even electroplating.

Methods and processes

Only recently was a standard designed for classifying the different ways something can be made using AM. In 2009, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) created a committee to define standards in AM technology[47]. In 2010 they defined seven main technologies used in AM. This was given the standard designation: F2792–12a[48]. As of December 2015, these ASTM standards were replaced with a new standard. ASTM joined with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to form ISO/ASTM 52900:2015[49]. Despite having seven uniquely defined categories, there are many different processes within each category. Regardless, the overall method and the underlying principles discussed previously still apply. Variance exists only with the materials, deposition of layers, and methods of adhesion.

These seven categories will be explored in depth with their:

  • definition
  • alternate industrial or trade names
  • a brief history
  • description of method and materials
  • advantages and disadvantages

These seven categories are (in alphabetical order):

  1. binder jetting
  2. directed energy deposition
  3. material extrusion
  4. material jetting
  5. powder bed fusion
  6. sheet lamination
  7. vat photopolymerization

The following are some common terms that are used when talking about these processes. They come from the ISO/ASTM definitions and are used throughout the seven category descriptions[49].

3D printer: the machine used for 3D printing.

Build chamber: the enclosed location within the 3D printer where the parts are fabricated.

Build platform: a base which provides a surface upon which the building of the part is started and supported throughout the build process.

Build space: the location where it is possible for parts to be fabricated, typically within the build chamber or on a build platform.

Build surface: the area where material is added, normally on the last deposited layer or for the first layer, the build surface is often the build platform.

Build volume: the total usable volume available in the machine for building parts.


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Canada Makes hosted by EOS in Germany

Canada Makes’ trade mission to Germany included a highly anticipated visit to EOS GmbH Electrox Optical Systems headquarters located in Munich. With 25 years of experience EOS is one of the most appreciated companies in the Additive Manufacturing and industrial 3D printing world and is a member of Canada Makes.

“EOS’s facilities are superb and very impressive,” said Frank Defalco, Manager of Canada Makes who lead the trade mission to Germany. ” Their expertise is what make EOS such a valued member to Canada Makes and we are very pleased to have had the chance to meet with them on this mission.”


Canadian delegates standing in front of an EOS M 290 at EOS headquarters in Germany

EOS offers e-Manufacturing solutions as well as easy and cost-effective entry solutions for companies looking to enter into the world of AM.

Canada Makes was also able to visit to FIT Additive Manufacturing Group, a group specialized in innovative solutions in the field of additive manufacturing ranging from Rapid Prototyping to serial production, software, and hardware development since 1995.

About EOS

EOS is a world leading technology and quality leader for high-end solutions in the area of additive manufacturing (AM). The company, which was founded in 1989, is a pioneer and global leader in the area of direct metal laser sintering, and also a provider of a leading polymer technology. For these industrial 3D printing processes, EOS offers a modular solutions portfolio that consists of systems, software, materials, as well as technical and AM consulting services. EOS is the partner of choice for industrial AM-based production, and provides long-term solutions for industry. Customers using these solutions are able to take advantage of a technology that is heralding a paradigm shift: light-weight structures, cost reductions based on functional integration, product customization and accelerated product development and production.

About FIT Additive Manufacturing Group

FIT Technology Group specializes in innovative solutions in the field of additive manufacturing. Ranging from Rapid Prototyping to serial production, software, and hardware development: they are able to provide all services under one roof quickly and reliably.

About Canada Makes

Canada Makes is a network of private, public, academic, and non-profit entities dedicated to promoting the adoption and development of advanced and additive manufacturing in Canada. The network covers a broad range of additive manufacturing technologies including 3D printing; reverse engineering 3D imaging; medical implants and replacement human tissue; metallic 3D printing; printable electronics; 3D printing with electronics embedded, Industry 4.0, and more.