3D printing or Additive manufacturing is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes. 3D printing is also considered distinct from traditional machining techniques, which mostly rely on the removal of material by methods such as cutting or drilling (subtractive processes).
A 3D printer is a limited type of industrial robot that is capable of carrying out an additive process under computer control.
While 3D printing technology has been around since the 1980s, it was not until the early 2010s that the printers became widely available commercially. The first working 3D printer was created in 1984 by Chuck Hull of 3D Systems Corp. Since the start of the 21st century there has been a large growth in the sales of these machines, and their price has dropped substantially. According to Wohlers Associates, a consultancy, the market for 3D printers and services was worth $2.2 billion worldwide in 2012, up 29% from 2011.
The 3D printing technology is used for both prototyping and distributed manufacturing with applications in architecture, construction (AEC), industrial design, automotive, aerospace, military, engineering, civil engineering, dental and medical industries, biotech (human tissue replacement), fashion, footwear, jewelry, eyewear, education, geographic information systems, food, and many other fields. One study has found that open source 3D printing could become a mass market item because domestic 3D printers can offset their capital costs by enabling consumers to avoid costs associated with purchasing common household objects.
3D Printable Models
3D printable models may be created with a computer aided design package or via 3D scanner. The manual modeling process of preparing geometric data for 3D computer graphics is similar to plastic arts such as sculpting. 3D scanning is a process of analyzing and collecting data of real object; its shape and appearance and builds digital, three dimensional models.
*wikipedia (5 February 2014) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_printing