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Different types of additive machines are at different places along the curve of technology’s adoption.
I rarely use “subtractive manufacturing” as a term that meaningfully unites a set of technologies. After all, metalcutting machining centers and woodworking routers are both “subtractive” machines, but their uses are so different that they are rarely lumped together. It’s hard to see what value would come from the lumping.
That observation suggests the kind of faulty thinking that can arise when “additive manufacturing” is used (as it often is by the general media) as an inclusive term for all digital 3D layering equipment—as if there is any meaningful trend or conclusion that all of this equipment is subject to.
In this publication, we use the term to refer to the industrial use of additive technologies to produce functional and often high-value engineered parts. That definition separates a direct metal laser sintering machine, for example, from a low-cost desktop 3D printer—even though both are “additive” and both have a place in “manufacturing.” The only thing uniting these two machine types is digital layering, and that is not much to have in common.
At the most recent SME Rapid conference, Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers Associates, gave a speech in which he shared the graph on this page. It illustrates why lumping all 3D printing into a single category leads to false impressions.
This graph is the technology-adoption distribution curve created by Everett Rogers in the 1960s. Senior manufacturing professionals might remember when now-established manufacturing technologies (think of EDM and CNC) were progressing through earlier stages on this curve. And on this curve, Wohlers tried to place his guess for where the adoption stands for 3D printing both for prototyping and for mature production. I agree with where he placed both dots, but the larger point is this: These two different dots are very widely separated along the curve.