[rp-ml] International Terminology Standards

From: Terry Wohlers <tw_at_wohlersassociates.com>
Date: Wed Jan 07 2009 - 18:15:39 EET


First, I'd like to wish everyone a Happy New Year and hope that it is filled with peace and happiness.

Next week, ASTM is hosting an organizational meeting to discuss industry standards and I hope you can attend. Details are at http://wohlersassociates.com/astm.html. The use of terminology will be a part of these discussions. Over the past several years, I've put a lot of thought into the terms that we use in our industry and have come to the conclusion that there's no right or wrong terms, although some are better than others at communicating our thoughts. In preparation for next week's meeting, I'd like to initiate some discussion on the subject. I will share ideas, and hopefully some consensus, from the members of this list.

For many years, "rapid prototyping (RP)" has been a popular term, and rightly so because prototyping has been the most popular application of additive fabrication (AF) technology. However, it is one of many applications as AF expands into new areas and industries. Consequently, a growing number of people are using terms such as "additive fabrication" or "additive manufacturing" when referring to the group of processes (e.g., fused deposition modeling, 3DP from Z Corp., laser sintering, etc.) that build parts layer by layer. Stratasys and 3D Systems have adopted the term "additive fabrication" as a catch-all term, although I cannot say whether it has become an official corporate standard at either company. Maybe. The mainstream press-when our industry is lucky enough to get included in it-uses "3D printing" most frequently. Among industry insiders, 3D printing refers to a group of AF processes that are relatively low cost, easy to use, and office friendly. Some think of the process from Z Corp. when hearing this term. Others may think of PolyJet from Objet Geometries.

AF processes are being used for a range of applications including concept design and modeling, fit and function testing, patterns for castings, and mold and die tooling. They are also used for fixture and assembly tools, custom and replacement part manufacturing, special edition products, short-run production, and series manufacturing. Prototyping is one of many applications and that's why "RP" is no longer suitable in most instances as a catch-all term. In fact, many companies resist the idea of using a prototyping method for part manufacturing, so using this term could stifle AF's transition to manufacturing applications.

The term "additive manufacturing" is fine, although because manufacturing is an application and not a technology, I believe it is plagued with problems, similar to "rapid prototyping." Consider, for example, this sentence: "My company is using additive manufacturing for manufacturing." It's confusing. Now, consider this: "My company is using solid freeform fabrication for manufacturing." Much cleaner. I'm not suggesting that we use "solid freeform fabrication;" I'm using it here to illustrate a point. I believe it works much better when the catch-all term does not include the name of an application. That way it can be used cleanly for all applications of the technology.

Since 2005 I've used the catch-all term "additive fabrication" in our company's publications, presentations, and communications. It's not perfect, but it works. In the future, I truly believe that "3D printing" will become the most popular term. When I'm describing AF technology to a relative or someone I'm seated next to on an airplane, I use 3D printing because there's a better chance that he/she will understand what I'm saying. It's simple and easy to say. I prefer it over alternatives, but 3D printing currently means something else to many people in our industry. This is likely to change. An estimated 74% of all systems sold in 2007 were classified as a 3D printer and each year this percentage increases.

If we were to let nature take its course, which term do you think would become the most popular in 5-7 years? In other words, which catch-all term do you feel has the greatest chance for success as AF works its way more deeply into both technical and consumer markets. Answering this question will help guide our thinking next week.


Terry Wohlers
Wohlers Associates, Inc.
OakRidge Business Park
1511 River Oak Drive
Fort Collins, Colorado 80525 USA
Fax 970-225-2027
Received on Wed Jan 07 18:23:17 2009

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