A 3D printer is a machine that creates objects from plastic or other materials using an additive manufacturing process. Additive manufacturing produces objects in a succession of layers from the bottom, up. This is the opposite of traditional subtractive manufacturing processes, which produce objects by cutting material away from a block to create the shape desired. The term 3D printer was a trademark of Stratasys Inc, which, in 1999, the company allowed to enter the public domain and become a generic industry term.
A 3D printer simplifies and accelerates the process of making prototypes and finished goods. The 3D printing process is so easy and yet so powerful that both home-based businesses and Fortune 500 companies count on it. Installations range from a single machine in a hobbyist’s basement to manufacturing centers with dozens of systems.
How does a 3D printer work? Beginning with computer-aided design (CAD) data, which defines a tool path, the 3D printer extrudes and deposits molten thermoplastic in layers to build the part from the bottom up. This makes very complex parts easy to produce.