Additive manufacturing, rapid prototyping, desktop manufacturing, free-form fabrication are processes in which a physical part is made directly from a 3D CAD drawing through point by point or layer by layer material consolidation.
The additive manufacturing occurs as follows:
File transfer to machine
This current process can show a lack of efficiencies and problems that need to be worked with such as:
STL files are larger than original CAD models
Geometry flaws can sometimes occur during file conversion (boundary edges, intersecting faces, non-manifold edges)
Support structures are limited to angles sharper than 45 degrees
Process requires the use of new plastic even when using recycled plastic
Typically requires finishing after manufacture
Albeit that additive manufacturing has its issues, the process benefits from the use of fewer parts, less tooling, and as designed closer to manufactured which can lead to better benefits overall.
The future of additive manufacturing is only growing with a market cap exceeding $75 billion up from $300 million in recent years.