3D printing is an additive technology in which objects are built up in a great many very thin layers. In 3D printing, additive processes are used, in which successive layers of material are laid down under computer control. These objects can be of almost any shape or geometry, and are produced from a 3D model or other electronic data source. A 3D printer is a type of industrial robot.
Distributed manufacturing--decentralized and geographically independent distributed production are allowed by additive manufacturing with cloud computing technologies. Distributed manufacturing as such is carried out by some enterprises; there is also a service to put people needing 3D printing in contact with owners of printers.
Rapid prototyping--Industrial 3D printers have existed since the early 1980s and have been used extensively for rapid prototyping and research purposes. These are generally larger machines that use proprietary powdered metals, casting media (e.g. sand), plastics, paper or cartridges, and are used for rapid prototyping by universities and commercial companies.
Rapid manufacturing--Advances in RP technology have introduced materials that are appropriate for final manufacture, which has in turn introduced the possibility of directly manufacturing finished components. One advantage of 3D printing for rapid manufacturing lies in the relatively inexpensive production of small numbers of parts.
Food--Cornell Creative Machines Lab announced in 2012 that it was possible to produce customised food with 3D Hydrocolloid Printing.Additative manufacturing of food is currently being developed by squeezing out food, layer by layer, into three-dimensional objects. A large variety of foods are appropriate candidates, such as chocolate and candy, and flat foods such as crackers, pasta,and pizza.
Research--3D printing can be particularly useful in research labs due to its ability to make specialised, bespoke geometries. In 2012 a proof of principle project at the University of Glasgow, UK, showed that it is possible to use 3D printing techniques to assist in the production of chemical compounds. They first printed chemical reaction vessels, then used the printer to deposit reactants into them. They have produced new compounds to verify the validity of the process, but have not pursued anything with a particular application.
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