Reflections on Additive Manufacturing

Autor: Abel Bajuelos Rizo
11 March 2023

A quick search using the term Additive Manufacturing (AM), yields countless graphs, (all growing almost exponentially), on impacts along the value chain of the most important industrial sectors globally. Of course, it also generates countless tabloid articles about ‘whole’ organ and house printing without the slightest context or rigour. Another consequence is the increase, this time exponentially, of scientific publications on the subject in the last decade.

Where there does seem to be rigour is in the consensus among leading consulting firms, business forums and national development strategies around the globe that, despite representing a relatively new manufacturing paradigm with its attendant uncertainties and challenges, it is the only manufacturing technology whose market has been growing at an average of at least 25% per year since 2014 [1], and is the manufacturing technology substrate that has the greatest disruptive potential to either decimate [2] or grow [3] global trade.

Additive manufacturing market growth forecasts according to 10 reputable analysts. Chart via HUBS.

Why are developing nations with a robust and established manufacturing landscape based on traditional technologies establishing national strategies that embrace the imperative to develop this relatively new set of technologies in order to secure economic growth and share a global consensus on their immense potential to revolutionise manufacturing? [4]

Why does the developed world visualise MA as a strategic element within the so-called ”4.0 technologies”, a fundamental technological substrate on which they envision reindustrialisation to maintain their competitive advantage, especially for high-tech goods? [5]

Why is this form of manufacturing perceived as inherently friendly to the environment and to new trends of circularity throughout the supply chain? [6]

Rather than answering them, this article aims to bring rigour and contribute to the increasingly intense and interesting global debate that this set of technologies is sparking.

7 families of additive manufacturing. Image via HUBS.

Beyond the definition of the term [7], these 7 major families of additive manufacturing processes [8] can be better understood as a technological substrate on which ideas are materialised at a much faster pace and at lower cost while favouring the expansion of the design and creative search space given that, in them, the complexity of the element to be manufactured and the cost are generally inversely proportional.

They also accentuate the value in manufacturing processes towards the creation, processing and management of information throughout the product life cycle and the development of new materials and composites optimised to be processed layer by layer, based on sustainability and circularity criteria.

“3D printers, rather than being equipment that makes specific products, are manufacturing platforms”.

3D printers, rather than being an equipment that makes specific products, are manufacturing platforms with the ability to impact several sectors simultaneously, allowing companies to decouple themselves from the economic requirements of producing large quantities of the same type of product. Its ability to generate physical goods without the need for preforms makes additive manufacturing inherently flexible and versatile in terms of what types of components a manufacturing system can produce.

Image via Deloitte.

Once the efficient mastery of the workflow that converts data into products and vice versa is achieved, AM significantly reduces the barriers for any business organisation to move horizontally between sectors [9].

By manufacturing additively, we are not “making” products/parts in the traditional term, we grow them layer by layer, while processing the indispensable material generating little waste we can intervene at any stage of the process and deposit in a controlled way other materials, add sensors, embedded electronics or any other functionality criteria.

Above topologically optimised mini-drone frame design and manufacturing with two materials simultaneously, White rigid, Blue flexible, stiffness and impact resistance in equilibrium. Below planetary assembly fabricated in-situ without the need for assembly. Source: Author

Complete assemblies, interconnected parts, hinges and mechanisms that were previously only possible in successive stages by assembling individual parts are manufactured simultaneously. The capability of simultaneous multi-material manufacturing resulting in products with a gradient of different porosity and/or properties has enormous potential yet to be explored.

“It is a technology that allows to explore new business models to integrate information, needs, expectations of customers in real time, segment at the level of the individual and define new value propositions such as mass customisation”.

MA’s industrial systems, some based on robotic arm platforms, deploy levels of control based on various types of sensors that monitor critical variables in-situ throughout the process, allowing real-time adjustments that ensure that the manufactured product complies in all its geometry with the quality criteria, properties and tolerances expressed in the 3D file that defines it. The traceability capacity is unprecedented.

A file is generated with all the information of the manufacturing process, which is enriched with the performance data and results of different tests and product life cycle; these in turn will serve as the basis for the criteria for modifications/evolution of the original 3D Model. All this results in more data, more information and more knowledge applied in the next manufacturing cycle. The “boundaries” between the physical and the information start to blur, physical assets are updated/optimised almost at the speed of software.

By integrating several so-called 4. 0 technologies into its systems and workflows, AM is the only manufacturing technology substrate capable of dealing cost-effectively with today’s possibilities of capturing and storing large amounts of data, processing them through the intensive use of machine learning algorithms, whose results subsequently serve as a conceptual framework for novel Computational Design methods and design strategies, focused on exploiting the advantages of Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) [10], such as Implicit Modelling, Topological Optimisation, Lattice Generation and Periodic Minimum Surfaces (TPMS).

Above lattice/scaffold fabrication for medical use, hip prosthesis prototype. Below distribution of three types of lattices and a TPMS module (Gyroid) distributed in the orthopaedic insole design based on the mapping of the patient’s footprint, achieving gradient of stiffness/flexibility in areas of higher/lower pressure. Source: Author

The above results in the emergence, rather than the preconceived design, of parts and assemblies with increasing geometric complexity resulting from the distribution of type and quantity of material only in the design space where predefined objectives and criteria are met based on loads, use scenario and boundary conditions, just as nature does. Basically solutions that accelerate the emergence of truly innovative, highly disruptive products whose unprecedented performance far surpasses their analogues and impact beyond the specific assembly they are part of or the system they act in. More than parts, solutions.


[1] 3D printing trends 2020. Industry highlights and market trends. Hubs, 2020.

[2] 3D printing: a threat to global trade. ING. Economic and Financial Analysis. Global Economics & Technology.

[3] Freund, Caroline and Mulabdic, Alen and Ruta, Michele, Is 3D Printing a Threat to Global Trade? The Trade Effects You Didn’t Hear About (September 25, 2019). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 9024, Available at SSRN:

[4] The fit of additive manufacturing in today’s world and the involvement of governments.

[5] Kai Gondlach. The Futures of Metal Additive Manufacturing 2030. OC Oerlikon & PROFORE. Munich, Oct 2022

[6] Sustainability of Metal Additive Manufacturing, Analysis of the CO2 footprint along the Additive Manufacturing process chain. AM

[7] ISO/ASTM 52900:2021 Additive manufacturing — General principles — Fundamentals and vocabulary

[8] Las 7 categorías de proceso de la fabricación aditiva.

[9] J.-P. Ferdinand et al. (eds.), The Decentralized and Networked Future of Value Creation, Progress in IS,Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

[10] O. Diegel et al., A Practical Guide to Design for Additive Manufacturing, Springer Series in Advanced Manufacturing, 2020

Abel Bajuelos Rizo

Diseñador Industrial, especialista en Manufactura Aditiva. Fundador de Addimensional.

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