2.4 3D Printing

By Chou Khamkeuang

3D printing has been known for its capability for printing 3 dimensional objects usually for prototypes or rapid prototyping (“3D printing”, 2020). In 2020, 3D printing is starting to be used as a manufacturing process, and the technical term for that is additive manufacturing. It can be used interchangeably with 3D printing as well though. 

The process of 3D printing involves using computer-aided design (CAD) and printing the design in three dimensions. Specifically, it adds layer after layer a chosen material which is why it is called additive manufacturing. The types of materials can vary from thermoplastics, metals like gold, silver, stainless steel, ceramics, and biochemicals (“GE”, n.d.).


There are many manufacturers of 3D printers such as Xerox and GE. There are also different types of 3D printers such as Vat photopolymerization, material jetting binder jettings, and more.

One particular 3D printer mode is the GE M2 Series 5. It is a direct metal laser melting (DMLM) machine often used in regulated industries such as aerospace and medical. DMLM is a patented technology. It uses lasers to melt fine metal powder to create complex metal 3D geometric objects from a CAD file.

CAD models are saved as a STL file which stands for stereolithography file format. It is the default file format for CAD. There is a newer CAD file format used for additive manufacturing called  Additive Manufacturing File format (AMF).


The benefit of additive manufacturing is its precision, range of materials that can be used, ability to make very complex shapes.

It is used in manufacturing, healthcare, aerospace, automotive, and others. 

For example, InkSmith a Canadian company that specializes in educational technology was able to change what they were making and make face shields for front-line workers in the healthcare industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. This ability to quickly use 3D printers to print whatever design people come up with such as this company even though they don’t make face shields is great because they were able to help the healthcare industry when help was really needed (Banger, 2020).


Some of the limitations of additive manufacturing are:

  • Cost of equipment
  • Materials availability
  • Post processing needs
  • Manufacturing costs (“Tractus 3D”, n.d.).


3D printing. (2020, March 31). Wikipedia. Retrieved April 7, 2020 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_printing

Banger, C. (2020, April 7). ‘In a position to help’: Kitchener company expands to make 50,000 face shields a day. CTV News. https://kitchener.ctvnews.ca/in-a-position-to-help-kitchener-company-expands-to-make-50-000-face-shields-a-day-1.4886766

GE. (n.d.). What is Additive Manufacturing?. https://www.ge.com/additive/additive-manufacturing

GE. (n.d.). M2 Series 5. https://www.ge.com/additive/additive-manufacturing/machines/m2series5
Tractus 3D. (n.d.). 3D Printing in manufacturing. https://tractus3d.com/used-by/manufacturing