What is 3D printing?

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, was invented in the 1980s. All 3D prints begin as digital 3D models created in 3D modeling and sculpting software (CAD/CAM); different software converts those files into printable formats by “slicing” the models into horizontal cross-sections (imagine cutting an apple into several slices and then stacking those up to look like an apple). There are a few types of 3D printing, but with the one that we use (fused filament fabrication), material is extruded in a very fine stream in the shape of each cross-section from the bottom up, laid down in consecutive stacking layers that build up into 3D objects. The objects can be solid, hollow, and anything in between. Many conventional methods of manufacturing are subtractive, where material is removed from a block to achieve the desired shape (CNC, drilling, milling). Because very little material is removed during the finishing of 3D printed objects and we have control over the solidity, it’s a highly efficient process with little waste.