Re: [rp-ml] A public survey on terminology

From: Terry Wohlers (
Date: Tue Aug 30 2005 - 17:19:19 EEST

Many interesting thoughts and ideas have been voiced. Thanks to Marshall for starting this thread.

Long term, I truly believe that "3D printing" will prevail as the generic term of choice. Why? It's simple, descriptive, and easy to say.

In the future, one or more inexpensive 3D printers will popularize additive fabrication technology. The product name(s) will be used more frequently than "3D printing," but sometimes, they will be used together. A friend might ask, "What's that?" The response: "It's a PlasticJet 3D printer."

In the short term, 3D printer will continue to mean what it means to many people today: A relatively inexpensive, easy-to-use, and office friendly additive process that fabricates models and prototype parts.

Another reason I feel strongly about the use of "3D printer" is this: There's strength in numbers. Last year, an estimated 1,970 3D printers were sold, according to Wohlers Report 2005. This is up 90.9% from 2003. During the same period, an estimated 996 non-3D printers were sold. Over time, 3D printers will represent an even higher percentage.

In the meantime, I agree that an umbrella term is needed to describe machines that produce parts additively. "Rapid prototyping" has been used for more than 15 years, but it is misleading, especially now that the technology has expanded into so many non-prototyping applications. Whichever umbrella term one decides to use, I believe it will be temporary.

I've been using "additive fabrication" because it accurately describes the technology and it works well. Do I like it? Well, it's okay, despite the eight syllables and its technical nature. I like it better than the alternatives. I prefer the sound of "additive manufacturing," but it becomes messy when used in conjunction with "rapid manufacturing," an application that will continue to grow in popularity.

There's no right or wrong way to handle the problem that has been discussed here. I do agree that some terms are better than others. What's most important is that we communicate what we mean and not leave anything to chance. "RP" as a catchall term has served its purpose, but its time for retirement, except when referring to prototyping applications. I've been working at it for most of this year, but it's not been easy when almost everyone else continues to use it.



Terry Wohlers
Wohlers Associates, Inc.
OakRidge Business Park
1511 River Oak Drive
Fort Collins, Colorado 80525 USA
Fax 970-225-2027

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Steven Adler (A3DM)
  To: 'Bathsheba Grossman' ;
  Sent: Monday, August 29, 2005 6:36 PM
  Subject: RE: [rp-ml] A public survey on terminology

  I use "Additive Fabrication" or "Layer Building Process" when asked to

  Steven Adler
  Automated 3D Modeling, Inc

  -----Original Message-----
  From: [] On
  Behalf Of Bathsheba Grossman
  Sent: Monday, August 29, 2005 4:01 PM
  Subject: Re: [rp-ml] A public survey on terminology

  On Mon, 29 Aug 2005, Brock Hinzmann wrote:
> If you really don't know what Star Trek is, then you make
> your point very clearly. We often think everyone must have
> seen American TV and movies. 3-D Printer will make more
> sense to non-Trekkies than Replicator will. Even the
> Trekkies will probably expect too much from a Replicator.

  Yes, I don't favor the Star Trek approach. I'm not a Trekkie myself
  (Dr. Who, if you must know), so Replicator conveys little to me; and
  when I see such people bandy the word, it's obvious that it conveys far
  too much to them. They want to know whether it can make dilithium,
  positronic brains and so forth...these aren't useful associations.

> Professionals will certainly recognize Additive
> Manufacturing and I expect most of them have refered to a
> Build at one time or another. But most will recognize
> virtually all oof the alternatives that have been
> mentioned here, because you are here and you discuss them.
> Experts will take the time to learn new terms and
> behaviors, even awkward ones (sometimes especially the
> awkward ones).

  I don't believe that anyone outside the industry will have much interest
  in walking through an 8-syllable sobriquet every time they want to
  mention the technology. Part of making the process easy to use is
  making it easy to talk about.

  I would say that "Additive manufacturing" is a valid and useful term for
  the specific purpose of distinguishing these processes from subtractive
  ones such as CNC milling, but for everyday use it's not viable. Just
  way too much work to say.

  Bathsheba Grossman
  Sculpting geometry
  Laser etched proteins

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