The Main Types of Additive Manufacturing

Tue May 11, 2021

In the past, manufacturing businesses used subtractive processes like molds, cutting, and drilling to create products. While removing material from a larger whole has worked well before, modern additive manufacturing processes are quickly replacing them. According to forecasts, the additive manufacturing industry is expected to grow to a staggering $23 billion by 2022.

Additive manufacturing is the computer-controlled process of building a 3D object by compiling layer upon layer of material, typically ceramic or metal powder, on a build platform until the final product is finished. The layers are hardened using heat, a curing agent, or lasers.

Since this method is additive, there’s less waste than with subtractive manufacturing, and therefore, lower costs.

There are pros and cons for each of the seven main types of additive manufacturing. It’s essential to know the differences so that you can choose the proper method for your business.

Here are the main types of additive manufacturing to boost your business’s manufacturing capabilities.

Types of Additive Manufacturing Processes

1. Binder Jetting

Binder jetting, also known as material jetting or inkjet powder printing, is among the most common additive manufacturing types.

This method works similarly to your run-of-the-mill office printer, except it prints three-dimensional objects. Instead of jetting ink onto a page, binder jetting jets adhesive into a powder material. The print head moves horizontally and vertically, putting down a new layer of build material with every pass.

It’s possible to manufacture objects with binder jetting using a variety of materials, including:

  • Gypsum powder (chalk)
  • Plastics
  • Ceramics
  • Metal
  • Glass
  • Sand

Binder jetting is one of the most affordable additive manufacturing processes because of its relatively low cost of entry and the inexpensive nature of its materials. It can also create objects faster than most other additive manufacturing processes - and in full color.

Although it comes with many benefits, binder jetting products tend to be fragile and require post-processing, including cleaning and hardening, which can be tedious and time-consuming.

2. Directed Energy Deposition (DED)

Directed energy deposition (DED) utilizes welding principles to create three-dimensional objects. The material - typically metal wire or powder - is melted by a focused energy source like a laser or electron beam. The liquid material is then precisely poured onto the build platform, where it quickly hardens, forming a layer. This process repeats until the object is finished printing.

One of DED’s significant benefits is that it can be used for more than just item creation; it can also repair and add material to existing parts or preforms. Additionally, it can utilize multiple materials in a single printing process.

3. Material Extrusion

Material extrusion works similarly to a hot glue gun. The material feeds into the printer from a coil. The tip of the nozzle heats and melts the material. The liquid material is then placed layer by layer on the build platform, where it can cool and solidify, forming the object.

Many businesses, and even recreational users, enjoy material extrusion, because of its low-cost equipment and materials. 

While this method is the most inexpensive method of additive manufacturing, material extrusion isn’t without its limitations. Since the heating elements aren’t powerful enough to melt high-density materials like metal, you’re limited to using only plastic polymers - which may not be durable enough for some applications, such as tooling and fixturing.

4. Powder Bed Fusion (PBF)

Powder bed fusion, otherwise known as electron beam melting (EBM), starts with a large bed of powdered material, typically plastic, metal, sand, or ceramic powders mixed with sand. 

The powder is selectively fused together using a laser or electron beam. Once a layer of material is fused, the working area moves down, and the new layer is built on top using the same process.

With PBF, there’s a high complexity level to the objects, making them stronger than objects created by some other types of additive manufacturing. Since it requires a bed of powder, it is difficult to maintain a clean working environment. This method is not the best option for tight spaces that aren’t set up to handle powdered materials.

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5. Sheet Lamination

Sheet lamination, otherwise known as ultrasonic additive manufacturing (UAM) or laminated object manufacturing (LOM) - is an additive manufacturing process that stacks thin sheets of material and bonds them together through ultrasonic welding, bonding, or brazing. As the layers stack up, the object takes shape.

Once all the layers are stacked and laminated, a CNC machine or laser cutter removes excess material, creating the object’s final form.

Since it works in multiple layers, sheet lamination allows manufacturers to layer various materials, print in full color, and at a much lower cost than some other additive manufacturing processes. 

While sheet lamination is relatively inexpensive, it does require some post-processing, which can be tedious and time-consuming. You’re also limited to materials that can come in sheets, such as paper, plastic, and metal. Since objects need to be trimmed once lamination is complete, some waste is involved in this additive manufacturing process.

6. Vat Polymerization

Vat polymerization is similar to powder bed fusion, except instead of a bed of powder, it uses a vat of photopolymer resin, which is hardened in layers by an ultraviolet laser. Once a layer is complete, more resin is added, and the next layer gets built. This process continues until the object is complete.

Although resin can be quite expensive, vat polymerization can construct objects quickly while providing a high level of accuracy and a good finish.

Despite its benefits, vat polymerization manufacturers are limited to using photo-resin materials and are required to perform a substantial level of post-processing. The printed objects need to be removed from the resin and cleaned up before they’re ready for use.

7. Material Jetting

Similar to binder jetting, material jetting layers material to construct an object. However, instead of layering adhesive on a bed of powder, material jetting melts wax-like materials and precisely deposits droplets onto the build platform. As the layers build up, the object takes shape.

Many manufacturers utilize material jetting because it’s relatively inexpensive and provides outstanding accuracy with high-quality surface finishes. Unfortunately, material jetting is limited to using only wax-like materials, which can be fragile. It also takes longer to build objects because it builds one droplet at a time.

Which Type of Additive Manufacturing Is Right for You?

Before selecting an additive manufacturing method, it’s important to think about what you need from your project. Are you looking for a more budget-friendly option, or do you need to use stronger build materials? Whatever your need, there’s an additive manufacturing process to benefit your production. 

No matter which type of additive manufacturing you choose, it’s essential to start with a good 3D digital model. Our experts at Spatial have over 35 years of experience in 3D modeling and have helped countless businesses design, test, and bring their products to market.

We provide comprehensive pre-processing functions that can be packaged into your software applications with our pre-built libraries. This approach helps you expand your application and hardware solutions’ current functionality while giving you a competitive advantage. 

If you need help with 3D modeling for your additive manufacturing process, check out our industry-leading 3D Modeling Software Development Toolkits or contact Spatial experts to get started.

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