3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), refers to various processes used to synthesize a three-dimensional object. In 3D printing, successive layers of material are formed under computer control to create an object. These objects can be of almost any shape or geometry, and are produced from a 3D model or other electronic data source. A 3D printer is a type of industrial robot.
Futurologists such as Jeremy Rifkin believe that 3D printing signals the beginning of a third industrial revolution, succeeding the production line assembly that dominated manufacturing starting in the late 19th century. Using the power of the Internet, it may eventually be possible to send a blueprint of any product to any place in the world to be replicated by a 3D printer with “elemental inks” capable of being combined into any material substance of any desired form.
3D printing in the term’s original sense refers to processes that sequentially deposit material onto a powder bed with inkjet printer heads. More recently, the meaning of the term has expanded to encompass a wider variety of techniques such as extrusion and sintering-based processes. Technical standards generally use the term additive manufacturing for this broader sense.