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3D PRINTING, also known as additive manufacturing, is the layer-by-layer fabrication of a product done under computer control. Science magazine, published weekly by the American Association of Science, offers an overview of additive manufacturing in its September 30, 2016, issue.

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“Multiprocess 3D Printing for Increasing Component Functionality,” written by Eric MacDonald and Ryan Wicker, summarizes the state of the art of this technology and suggests its future directions. Here are some tidbits.

3D printing encompasses several forms, among them vat photopolymerization, powder bed fusion, material extrusion, sheet lamination, directed energy deposition, material jetting and binder jetting. The words suggest complexities of each of these; in photopolymerization, for instance, think of a plastic layer changing its characteristics when exposed to specific frequencies of light.

Each of these 3D printing processes has its own tradeoffs of cost, detail and material applications. In general, though, additive manufacturing offers efficient computer-based customization not feasible with the typical dies, molds and tools required in traditional casting, forging, machining and injection molding.

Also, in a sense, the timing is right: The Science summary reports that original patents of additive manufacturing have begun to expire. This, in turn, results in “a burgeoning number of low-cost desktop systems that provide increased accessibility to society at large.”

In fact, I got a basic 3D gizmo, a Scribbler 3D Pen, as a gift from Daughter Suz. The 3D Pen is a handheld extrusion device for constructing objects from plastic filaments molded element by element. Though I haven’t attempted this yet, 3D shapes are formed by layering these atop each other.


Amazon, for example, lists a variety of additive manufacturing hardware, the crafts devices for less than $100, many others costing less than $1000. Professional hardware appears to start in the low five-figure range.

Additive manufacturing has come a long way from 3D “printing” of layers of basic cellulosic materials. Metals, ceramics and polymers are now acceptable as well.

In fact, Science cites a new direction: multiprocess or hybrid 3D printing, in which materials of different properties are selectively layered and aligned to produce functional as well as geometric complexity.


This antenna is an intricate example of additive manufacturing. This and the following image from Science magazine, September 30, 2016.

Such additively manufactured products can have intricate detail, directional strength and embedded components giving “additional electronic, electromagnetic, optical, thermodynamic, chemical, and electromechanical content.” Imagine: a product of customized layers, each optimized for particular properties and functions.


A Multi3D Manufacturing system for multiprocess 3D printing. Two 3D printers collaborate, with the help of a six-axis robot for conveyance and post-process assembly. For details on such a system, see “3D Printing Multi-Functionality.”

In time, Science notes, low-cost hybrid additive manufacturing could offer on-site fabrication of everything from human organs to satellites, whenever and wherever required: “The ramifications are substantial, given that 3D printing will enable the fabrication of customer-specific products locally and on demand, improving personalization and reducing shipping costs and delays.”

From the Science article’s conclusion: “Examples could include replacement components for grain-milling equipment in a remote village in the developing world, biomedical devices created specifically for a patient in a hospital before surgery, and satellite components printed in orbit, thus avoiding the delays and costs associated with launch operations.”

We’ve entered an era in which science is leading science fiction. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016


  1. Michael Rubin
    October 12, 2016

    Hmm, printing low production vehicle chassis and parts such as race car monocoques.

  2. H Nelson
    October 14, 2016

    I have a few comments:
    There are some who breathlessly predict that 3d printing will replace subtractive machining. They have never seen an automatic screw machine spit out parts.
    Although I first ran across 3d printing in the ’80’s, the idea of putting a wax nozzle on an nc mill instead of the normal spindle could have been (and maybe was) done in the 60’s.
    What was missing (similarly, you don’t make steam engines out of rock) was cheap 3d design systems to run the “printhead”
    All has come together in the present, and now is beginning to enable complex low volume parts to be made more efficiently than by conventional means.

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    January 18, 2021

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