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Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing by Hod Lipson, Melba Kurman

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Chapter 5

Printing in layers

This chapter is for the technically inclined, for those who want to dig into the mechanical mysteries of the 3D printing process. Otherwise, the brief explanation of printing technology we’ve already provided is all you need to enjoy the rest of this book so feel free to skip ahead.

The formal industry name for 3D printing, additive manufacturing, is actually quite descriptive of how these machines work. “Additive” refers to the fact that 3D printing methods fabricate objects by either depositing or binding raw material into layers to form a solid, three-dimensional object. “Manufacturing” refers to the fact that 3D printers create these layers according to some kind of predictable, repeatable, and systematic process.

A 3D printer can be small enough to fit into a tote bag or the size of a small mini-van. Printers can range in cost from a few hundred dollars to half a million dollars. Their unifying trait is that they follow instructions from a computer to place raw materials into layers to form a three-dimensional object.

A manufacturing process at heart

At its heart, 3D printing is a manufacturing, not a printing, process. That’s why we were intrigued when we heard that a global company, ABC Imaging added 3D printing to its service offerings. To learn more, we contacted John T. Lee, the man who manages ABC’s 3D modeling and rapid prototyping services. John agreed to walk me through the 3D printing process at ABC’s headquarters in Washington, DC.

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