Additive manufacturing in industry: building the present layer by layer

The versatility and influence of 3D printing in industrial environments is increasing, both in the manufacture of consumer goods and in the manufacture of parts and components for other industries. AIMEN, a member of ATIGA, is one of the European leaders in research into innovative additive manufacturing techniques and the development of new materials.

Imagine a world where the creation of complex objects requires no molds or special tooling, where customization is the norm and production is more efficient than ever. It’s not science fiction, it’s the reality of additive manufacturing, a revolutionary technology that is transforming industry by leaps and bounds.

In the dynamic landscape of technological development applied to industry, additive manufacturing has emerged in recent years as a revolutionary force capable of transforming the way manufacturing creates, produces and competes.

Its versatility is astounding and its influence cross-cutting: from medicine to automotive, textiles to aerospace.

What is additive manufacturing?

Additive manufacturing refers to the use of 3D printing techniques for the production of goods and products.

It is an advanced manufacturing process based on the construction of three-dimensional objects layer by layer, starting from digital models.Additive manufacturing allows greater flexibility, efficiency and versatility in the production of components and products than subtractive manufacturing, in which material is removed from the raw material to create a part or component.

In addition, it also allows for the fabrication of designs that could not be produced using subtractive methods.Unlike traditional manufacturing methods, additive manufacturing does not remove material: it adds it incrementally to create an object.

Additive manufacturing is based on the construction of three-dimensional objects layer by layer from digital models.

File preparationPhases of the additive manufacturing process

The additive manufacturing process generally follows these steps:

Digital design.

It begins with the creation of a digital 3D model of the object to be manufactured. This can be done using computer-aided design (CAD) software or by digitizing a physical object using techniques such as 3D scanning.

However, the choice of a particular Additive Manufacturing process determines the type of design, which is very different from that used in extractive systems.

Preparación del archivo

The 3D model is broken down into individual layers, resulting in a digital file containing information about each layer and how it should be printed.

This is a critical phase in the process, as the feasibility of manufacturing, as well as the final quality of the part, may depend on the path planning strategy.


The file is loaded into a 3D printer that executes the layers and begins to manufacture the object layer by layer. This is done using a variety of technologies with their own characteristics and advantages, which we will see below.

Solidification or bonding of layers

As each layer of material is deposited, it solidifies with the previous layer. This can be achieved by the application of heat, ultraviolet light, laser or other methods. It all depends on the technology used.

Finishing and post-processing

Once the print has been completed, additional steps may be required, such as removing material supports, sanding or polishing the surface, and other finishing processes.

Diseño digital de una pieza

Types of Additive Manufacturing

There are several methods of additive manufacturing, each with its own characteristics and applications. These are some of the most commonly used:

Directed Energy Deposition (DED).

This is one of the most advanced techniques in additive manufacturing in sectors such as aerospace and automotive. It uses a material in the form of powder or wire that is deposited and melted by applying thermal energy, usually through a laser, an arc source or an electron beam. What makes the DED system distinctive is its ability to work on non-planar geometries.

This versatility makes it a valuable option for a variety of industrial applications, from the repair and coating of parts to the manufacture of complex, high-strength, high-performance components.

Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)

It is one of the most common additive manufacturing processes.In the FFF process, a filament of thermoplastic material is extruded through a hot nozzle and deposited layer by layer to build the object. It is widely used for prototyping, low-cost parts and household products. However, it is increasingly used for the manufacture of final parts through industrial printers.

Stereolithography (SLA)

In SLA, an ultraviolet laser hardens a liquid photosensitive resin layer by layer. This is done inside a tank that is filled with resin. It is known for its high precision and is used in applications that require fine details, such as jewelry, dentistry and anatomical models.

Powder Bed Fusion (PBF)

In this system a thin layer of powdered material, such as polymers or metal alloys, is spread evenly on a platform. A laser or similar energy source then fuses the powder, solidifying it and creating successive layers.

The distinguishing feature of PBF lies in its ability to produce high-quality, millimeter-precision parts, an approach particularly prized in industries such as aerospace or medicine, where the requirement for tight tolerances is paramount.

The versatility of the Powder Bed Fusion is manifested in its ability to work with a wide range of materials, from plastics to high-performance metals. Its popularity in the industry is due not only to its precision, but also to its efficiency and ability to produce lightweight, strong components.

Electron Beam Melting (EBM)

Similar to PBF, EBM uses an electron beam instead of a laser to fuse metal powders. This method is mostly used for the production of metal parts in industries such as aerospace and medical.

Binder Jetting

A liquid binder is selectively applied to powder particles to bind them layer by layer. It is often used for the manufacture of casting molds.

Laminated Object Manufacturing

In LOM, layers of material (usually paper, plastic or metal) are cut and welded together with heat and adhesive. It is suitable for rapid prototyping and scale models.

Material Jetting

In this process, a printhead deposits droplets of liquid material that are hardened by ultraviolet light. It is known for its high precision and is used in applications that require fine details and smooth surfaces.


This type of additive manufacturing focuses on the creation of tissues and organs using living cells. It is an emerging technology with the potential to revolutionize regenerative medicine.

fabricación 3d en biomedicina

In recent years, the development of bioprinting, the type of additive manufacturing that allows the creation of tissues and organs using live cells, has accelerated. 

Complex Design and CustomizationAdvantages of additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing offers several significant advantages, such as the ability to create complex geometries, reduced material waste, customization of products on an individual level, and rapid prototyping of designs.

This makes it a powerful tool in a variety of industries, from medical and aviation to automotive and architecture.

Let’s look at these advantages in detail.

Diseño Complejo y Personalización

3D printing enables the creation of highly complex and customized designs that would be difficult or impossible to achieve with traditional methods.

Waste Reduction

Additive manufacturing is an additive process, meaning that only the material needed to create the part is used, which significantly reduces waste compared to subtractive processes.

Speed in Product Development

3D printing accelerates the design and prototyping process, enabling companies to bring products to market faster and perform design iterations more efficiently.

On-Demand Production

Additive manufacturing enables the production of custom parts in small or single quantities, reducing warehousing and inventory management costs.

Weight Savings

3D printing enables the creation of lightweight, optimized structures, which is especially valuable in the aerospace and automotive industries, where every gram counts.

Massive Customization

Additive manufacturing enables mass customization of products, which meets customer demands for unique products tailored to their specific needs.

Reduced Tooling and Mold Costs

Unlike traditional processes, additive manufacturing does not require the costly creation of tooling and molds, which reduces initial production costs.

Local and Decentralized Production

3D printing can be carried out locally, allowing for more decentralized production and reduced transportation costs.

Innovation and Experimentation

Additive manufacturing encourages innovation and experimentation, leading to the creation of new products and solutions that would not otherwise be possible.

It is important to keep in mind that the choice of manufacturing technology depends on the specific needs of each project and that, in many cases, additive manufacturing is used in conjunction with traditional methods to achieve the best results.

Impresión 3D

What technologies can it be combined with?

Additive manufacturing is a versatile technology. It can be integrated and complemented with other techniques in a wide range of applications.

Here are a few:

3D scanning

Combining additive manufacturing with 3D scanning technologies allows the digitization of existing physical objects for subsequent reproduction. This is useful in reverse engineering, custom design and restoration of old objects.

CAD (Computer Aided Design)

CAD software is critical in the process of designing 3D models for additive manufacturing. Engineers and designers use CAD programs to create digital models that are then converted into 3D print-ready files.

Simulation and finite element analysis

Enable engineers to analyze and simulate the behavior of printed parts prior to manufacturing. This helps to optimize the design and ensure the strength and durability of the final product. It is also increasingly used to simulate the part manufacturing process itself to optimize manufacturing strategies.

Internet of Things (IoT)

Additive manufacturing integrates easily with IoT by enabling the creation of custom housings for sensors and devices. This facilitates the incorporation of sensors and electronics into 3D printed products.


3D printing is used to create custom components for robots and automated systems. Replacement parts or upgrades for existing robots can also be printed.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI is used to optimize algorithmically generated designs in additive manufacturing. This can result in more efficient geometries and innovative design solutions.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)

These technologies are used to visualize 3D models prior to printing and guide the operation of printers in real time.

Print automation and robotics

3D printing systems can be integrated with robots and automation systems for continuous, unattended production. This is particularly relevant in large-scale manufacturing.

Nanotechnology and advanced materials

Nanotechnology is used to develop new materials and improve the properties of materials used in 3D printing. This expands the possibilities for applications in sectors such as medicine and electronics.

Digital and hybrid additive manufacturing

Some technologies combine additive manufacturing with traditional manufacturing processes, such as CNC machining. This allows the creation of parts with specific properties and high-quality finishes.

Other complementary techniques used in post-processing

Additive manufacturing employs other techniques in the post-processing phase to improve the properties and finishes of the parts produced. 

  • CNC Machining: Computer Numerical Control allows refining surfaces and adjusting tolerances to obtain precise finishes and fine adjustments.
  • Coating: The application of protective coatings or coatings that provide physical or chemical properties to parts.
  • Chemical etching: Used to modify the surface of printed parts, improving roughness or facilitating adhesion of coatings.
  • Heat treatment: Tempering or quenching improves the durability of parts, adapting them to specific environments or load requirements.
  • Debinding: Removes binders present in the printed part to ensure its integrity and quality in later stages of the process.

The combination of Artificial Intelligence and 3D manufacturing is enabling more efficient geometries and innovative design solutions.

Dental industryHealthcare and medicinePrototyping and product development.10 applications of additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing has revolutionized numerous industries by offering a wide range of practical applications.

Here are ten outstanding examples:

Prototipado y desarrollo de producto

Additive manufacturing enables the rapid and cost-effective creation of functional prototypes and concept models. This accelerates the product development process.


In the aerospace industry, 3D printed parts are used to create lighter components, reducing aircraft weight and improving fuel efficiency.

Healthcare and medicine

From customized prosthetics to anatomical models and medical devices, additive manufacturing is used to improve medical care and personalized surgery.


In automotive manufacturing, 3D printed parts are used to create lightweight, customized and optimized components, as well as to manufacture vehicle prototypes.

Dental industry

In dentistry, additive manufacturing is used to create customized crowns, bridges and orthodontic appliances.

Architecture and construction

3D printing is used to create architectural elements, models and building components, speeding up the construction process and reducing waste.

Military and defense industry

3D printed parts are used to manufacture critical components, such as drones, weapons parts and custom equipment.


Food 3D printing is used to create customized culinary shapes and decorations, as well as for the production of food tailored to specific dietary needs.

Education and learning

Additive manufacturing has become a powerful educational tool for teaching design and technology concepts, allowing students to create hands-on projects.

Fashion and design industry

In fashion, 3D printing techniques are used to create unique garments and accessories, as well as to prototype fashion designs.

These are just a few examples of the many practical applications of additive manufacturing. Its ability to customize products, reduce costs and speed up processes makes it an essential tool in a wide variety of industries, driving innovation and efficiency in production and design.

3D printing is becoming increasingly popular in the dental, food, fashion and health industries or as a complement to training.

Where additive manufacturing is headed

Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, has an exciting future full of possibilities in the next 10 years.

Here are some key prospects for improvement and where this technology is headed:

Faster printing speeds.

One of the current limitations of additive manufacturing is printing speed. Technologies that enable faster printing without compromising quality and precision are expected to be developed in the coming years.

Wide range of materials

Diversification of raw materials used in additive manufacturing is a key trend. A wider variety is expected to be developed and adopted, including high-performance plastics, metals and advanced composite materials.

Improvements in printing scale

Instead of employing small components, large-scale 3D printing is becoming a reality. This has implications for the manufacture of large parts, such as aircraft components and building structures.

Increased accuracy and resolution

Improvements in the precision and resolution of 3D printers will enable the creation of even more detailed and complex parts, expanding applications in the jewelry, dental or electronics industries.

Increased accuracy and resolution

Improvements in the precision and resolution of 3D printers will enable the creation of even more detailed and complex parts, expanding applications in the jewelry, dental or electronics industries.

Hybrid additive manufacturing

The integration of additive manufacturing with traditional technologies, such as CNC machining, will become a growing trend. This will enable the production of parts with specific properties and high-quality finishes.

Sustainable materials

More sustainable materials are being investigated for additive manufacturing, including recycled plastics and biomaterials. This aligns with the growing environmental awareness and demand for sustainable solutions.

Mass customization

Additive manufacturing will enable mass production of customized products at competitive prices. This could change the way consumer products, from shoes to electronic devices, are produced.

Advanced medical applications

Additive manufacturing is expected to continue to advance the creation of 3D printed tissues and organs for transplantation and the production of customized medical devices.

Space exploration and colonization

Additive manufacturing will play an important role in the colonization of other planets, enabling the production of critical tools and structures in space.

fabricación aditiva

10 companies successfully using additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing has become a vital component in many companies’ strategy for producing and marketing products.

Here are some of the 10 that are leveraging this technology to compete in the marketplace:

General Electric (GE)

GE has adopted additive manufacturing in the production of components for aircraft engines and gas turbines.


Boeing uses additive manufacturing to produce aircraft components, such as brackets and structural parts, which reduces weight and improves fuel efficiency.

3Dvarius y Aleph Guitar

Both produce custom musical instruments, such as violins and guitars.


Siemens uses additive manufacturing in the production of turbine and engine components.


Dyson uses the technology to create prototypes and components for vacuum cleaners and other household devices.


Tesla has employed additive manufacturing for the production of prototype parts for its automobiles.

Protos Eyewear

Protos Eyewear uses additive manufacturing to create custom sunglasses, allowing customers to choose the design, color and fit they want.


Nike has adopted additive manufacturing in the production of customized components for footwear and accessories.

IKEA and Steelcase

Companies such as IKEA and Steelcase employ additive manufacturing to create custom furniture components, allowing customers to design and assemble their own furniture according to their needs.

EnvisionTEC and Widex

Companies like EnvisionTEC collaborate with hearing aid manufacturers, such as Widex, to produce these devices using 3D printing. This improves comfort and sound quality for users.

Fabricación aditiva

The role of AIMEN in the development of additive manufacturing

AIMEN, member of ATIGA, is one of the leading research centers in Spain in the development of additive manufacturing. Specialized in innovation linked to advanced manufacturing, AIMEN has developed projects oriented to the development of AF technology using robotics to obtain large components, as well as using a combination or modification of starting materials, achieving specific functional properties in both metallic and polymeric matrix materials.

Some thirty experts involved in additive manufacturing research

AIMEN’s Advanced Manufacturing Processes and Advanced Materials areas each have around thirty researchers involved in the development of new lines of research.

The commitment to manufacturing processes assisted by DED and FFF techniques has allowed AIMEN to join the Network of Excellence in Additive Manufacturing (READI), which aims to accelerate the adoption of additive manufacturing in industrial environments and provides its services to the aerospace industry, consumer goods, industrial equipment, transport or tooling.

This research effort has yielded results. In recent years AIMEN has led dozens of projects that have allowed additive manufacturing to evolve in the European ecosystem. A good example is the European project Integradde, in which AIMEN led 26 entities from 11 countries in an initiative aimed at transferring innovations in additive manufacturing to industry and which had 17 million euros of European funds.

Another example is the integration of AIMEN in the European project AMable – Adoptive Manufacturing of Components and Tools for Batch-Additive Manufacturing-, a network in which universities and technology centers are integrated and that aims to promote the adoption of advanced technologies such as additive manufacturing in the business fabric of the continent.

AMAble’s member centers provide specialized advice and know-how to SMEs that need 3D techniques for the production of innovative products. The network has become an active community where its members exchange experiences to face challenges related to this technology and develop collaborative projects.


The area of Advanced Manufacturing Processes and Advanced Materials of AIMEN each have about thirty researchers involved in the development of new lines of research.

AIMEN’s lines of work


AIMEN’s Advanced Manufacturing Processes area is a reference in the development of 3D printing techniques through PFA and MAVA and in the optimization of printing parameters to achieve high quality components.

Design, prototyping and manufacturing of large parts

AIMEN works in the creation and manufacture of functional prototypes of large parts for companies in various sectors, using laser techniques, wire arc, FFF and robotic heads.

Techniques and processes

In addition to FFF, AIMEN also uses DED processes in the manufacture of metals for large components.

Development of new materials

AIMEN’s research has led to the development of new multi-material components, nano-reinforced alloys, filaments based on biopolymers and/or reinforced with continuous fiber and others made from recycled material.

Training and dissemination

AIMEN offers training programs in laser technologies, advanced modeling and other disciplines related to additive manufacturing to train professionals in the effective use of this technology and to promote its adoption in the industry.