Additive Manufacturing

Manufacture for plastics and metals, usually via 3D printing

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What is Additive manufacturing?

Additive manufacturing (or AM) is a method of manufacture for plastics and metals, usually via 3D printing. It has revolutionised industrial production by enabling the creation of lighter, stronger parts and systems to be created.

The process of Additive Manufacturing uses CAD software or 3D scanners to guide machinery in creating an object, adding material one layer at a time using little more than the required amount of raw material per layer. AM adds material to create an object, as opposed to ‘subtractive’ or more traditional means of manufacturing, where an object is created by removing material into a given shape.

Is Additive Manufacturing The Same As 3D printing?

3D printing is the best-known phrase that describes many Additive Manufacturing technologies. However, this buzzword came about when cheaper entry level machines became available on a wide scale. Before then, the only term used was ‘rapid prototyping’ or RP which refers to the primary use of AM machines which was a method of making prototypes quickly. Therefore AM could be referred to as 3D printing in a manufacturing capacity.

Uses of Additive Manufacturing In Today’s Manufacturing Environment

As it stands, low Volume / Additive Manufacturing will never be capable of mass manufacture (eg to satisfy the demand for 300M plastic Coca-Cola bottles per day) as it cannot compete with traditional manufacturing techniques in terms of speed or cost at high volumes. That being said, there are many cases where AM is the best choice. Some examples of its uses are as follows:


Additive Manufacturing unlocks new possibilities for customisation because it does not require expensive tooling. Invisalign were one of the worlds first to utilise AM in the production of their teeth alignment product. They produce thousands of “similar, but uniquely different” aligners tailored to each unique customer.

Assisting with prototyping/product development

Manufacturers are able to quickly produce several prototypes before committing to final production, enabling effective user testing and consumer feedback exercises to be carried out in order to develop and improve the design during the process. MNL have been helping designers and R&D divisions of companies at all stages of product development for almost 50 years. For an in-depth look into the many MNL services available throughout product development try here.

Low Volume Manufacture

Low Volume / Additive manufacturing for low volumes has been used for a few years now. It is difficult to say a quantity at which AM is the best choice.

There are many factors to be considered when deciding to use AM over more traditional methods. Some of the factors that influence the decision making are as follows.

Complexity of design
Size of components
Material choice
Timeframes available
Surface finish requirements

In general AM produces parts with a layering process and as such are not always suited to aesthetic pieces. Often these lines or layers can be used as a desired feature making the process suitable or, more recently, parts may be produced with “texture” on the surface to hide the layer effect. In cases where aesthetics are important and numbers are suitably low then finishing techniques are possible to improve the look. You can read more about uses of Additive Manufacturing here.

Benefits of Additive Manufacturing

Cost effective
AM makes prototyping more cost effective than traditional prototyping process.
Large reduction in time-to-market
Prototyping using AM is significantly quicker than more traditional processes. This can lead to a reduction in time-to-market, which in turn leads to more sales, in particular over your competitors.

Energy and material efficient
AM’s process of strategically adding layers of material on top of each other until the bespoke part is created means that overall waste from the AM process is minimal.

consolidate different parts within assemblies
Parts that previously required assembly from multiple pieces can be additively manufactured as a single object which not only can provide improved strength and durability, but can also save time and material costs.

Lighten the weight of your parts with complex lattice structures
Lattices and other intricate structures are often impossible and costly to create using traditional manufacturing methods. Redesigned components with lattice structures manufactured using AM can provide a lightweight solution over standard parts without compromising on strength or durability. Perfect for weight saving in the Aerospace and Motorsport industry.
Less design constraints Additive manufacturing is fantastic for any unusual or complex component shapes which can be difficult or unachievable to manufacture using other processes.

Additive Manufacturing Technologies and Materials

Additive Manufacturing technologies can be broadly divided into these different types:



Thermoplastics are the most commonly used Additive Manufacturing material typically used in the FDM process. These include Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polylactic acid (PLA), polycarbonate (PC), and for temporary support structures before being dissolved; Water-soluble polyvinyl alcohol (PVA). Each material can be used in a variety of applications and comes with different advantages.


Additive Manufacturing can utilise many different metals and metal alloys. Titanium, stainless steel, chrome, aluminium, copper and nickel-based alloys are available as powdered form for AM, as well as precious metals like gold, silver, platinum and palladium. 


Ceramics including zirconia, alumina and tricalcium phosphate have all been used in AM. In addition, new classes of glass products can be created by alternating layers of powdered glass and adhesive.


Silicon, calcium phosphate and zinc are biochemicals used in AM. These are primarily used in healthcare applications to support bone structures as new bone growth occurs. Bio-inks fabricated from stem cells are being researched to allow the production of complex tissues for surgical implants.

As there are many different processes under the AM umbrella which give way to differing pros and cons of each technique and material it is not always clear cut as to what is the best choice for manufacture. Our expert team at Malcolm Nicholls Ltd can advise the best Additive Manufacturing technology based on your specific requirements.

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