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There are in fact a number of different subtypes of additive manufacturing including 3D printing, but also rapid prototyping and direct digital manufacturing (DDM). Recent advances in this technology have seen its use become far more widespread and it offers exciting possibilities for future development.
The clue to the basics of additive manufacturing; rather than producing an end result by taking material away, it adds to it instead.
Traditional manufacturing methods involve a material being carved or shaped into the desired product by parts of it being removed in a variety of ways. Additive manufacturing is the pole opposite; structures are made by the addition of thousands of minuscule layers which combine to create the product. The process involves the use of a computer and special CAD software which can relay messages to the printer so it "prints" in the desired shape.
Suitable for use with a range of different materials, the cartridge is loaded with the relevant substance and this is "printed" into the shape, one wafer-thin layer at a time. These layers are repeatedly printed on top of each other, being fused together during the process until the shape is complete.