3D Printing vs. Additive Manufacturing

3D Printing vs. Additive Manufacturing

Dec 6th 2021

Additive manufacturing and 3D printing are both manufacturing processes that use the layering of raw materials to create objects, but are they the same? What is the additive manufacturing process, and how does it differ from 3D printing? These are common questions, and the answer often depends on who you ask. Both are cutting edge-technologies that create objects through the layering of raw materials, but there are some slight differences between the two terms that you should understand.

Additive Manufacturing Is a Broad Term 

To put it simply, 3D printing is a type of additive manufacturing, but it’s not the only one. Additive manufacturing is an all-encompassing term that refers to any process where raw materials are added to create a product, rather than removed, such as with milling. 

So, additive manufacturing and 3D printing are the same, but it’s not quite that simple. For example, selective laser melting and electron beam manufacturing are also both additive manufacturing processes, but you wouldn’t call them 3D printing, right?

Consumer vs. Industrial Applications

While there are companies that use 3D printing on a larger scale, 3D printing is usually a process performed by smaller companies and casual enthusiasts. It’s often for rapid prototyping or for recreation, rather than for creating finished products. 

The printers are smaller and less complex, and they’re typically driven by a home computer with CAD software. 3D printers are usually less precise than large-scale industrial additive manufacturing equipment.

Raw Materials

A consumer-grade 3D printer with polymer objects

Another difference between additive manufacturing and 3D printing is that 3D printers usually use polymer as a raw material, while additive manufacturing equipment can use polymer, but more frequently utilizes powdered metals, as well as ceramic in some cases. 

So what is the additive manufacturing process, and how does it differ from 3D printing? The answer varies widely and largely depends on the specific application. However, if a company uses atomized metals for their manufacturing, they’re typically using highly advanced machinery, not 3D printers.

It All Comes Down to Terminology

In summary, you can call 3D printing a type of additive manufacturing, but you could confuse manufacturers or engineers who might assume you’re referencing an industrial operation. 

Similarly, if you’re a hobbyist who creates objects at home, and you’re not sure whether to call what you do additive manufacturing or 3D printing, 3D printing is a more familiar term that has a specific connotation more applicable to your activities.

Contact Us to Learn More

Pile of industrial steel

At KBM Advanced Materials, we sell powdered metals for industrial additive manufacturing companies, not consumer-grade 3D printers. We act as an inventory bridge, allowing advanced manufacturing companies to purchase raw materials directly online with the click of a button. If you have any questions about our products, please don’t hesitate to contact us for more information. 

Advanced manufacturing terminology can be confusing, especially if you’re new to your hobby or job. We hope this guide has been informative in helping you understand the subtle differences between additive manufacturing and 3D printing. Follow our news page for more information about the additive manufacturing industry.