I was interested in the term “3D printing” and the interviewee’s shoes made by the technology after watched the BBC Hardtalk episode. I wondered what are the differences between 3D printing and CAD that I learned before. I don’t want to talk about the interviewee. Her experience in China is what the generations of my parents, aunts, uncles, and relatives might know.

Joris Peels in The Shapeways Blog: 3D Printing News & Innovation provided a definition: “3D Printing is a technique that deposites material layer by layer using a head similar to that of a inkjet printer. ”

In a report “How 3D Printing works“, it pointed out “This reality of affordable on-demand prototyping was first conceived by visionaries at MIT who in 1993 developed the fastest and most affordable method of prototyping — 3D printing.”

“3D printing is a manufacturing process in which material (plastic, metal, or other) is laid down, layer by layer, to form a 3-dimensional object. (It is deemed an additive process because the object is built up from scratch, as opposed to subtractive processes in which material is cut, drilled, milled, or machined off.)” said in the article “3D Printing: What You Need to Know” written by Tony Hoffman.

3D Printing is very attractive as Nicole Kobie stated “forget going to the shops to buy an item, simply design and print your own”.

Clearly, 3D Printing is a complement to CAD. The computer-aided design (CAD) I learned was using 2D vector-based data model design physical components. The 3D Printing is using modern CAD technology to make material layers of 3D solid object from virtual three-dimensional digital model.

However, I prefer this explanation provided by the NMC Horizon Report 2013 Higher Education Edition. (The report also stated “wearable technology”, which is another four to five years challenge.)

“Known in industrial circles as rapid prototyping, 3D printing refers to technologies that construct physical objects from three-dimensional (3D) digital content such as computer-aided design (CAD), computer aided tomography (CAT), and X-ray crystallography. A 3D printer builds a tangible model or prototype from the file, one layer at a time, using an inkjet-like process to spray a bonding agent onto a very thin layer of fixable powder. The bonding agent can be applied very accurately to build an object from the bottom up, layer by layer. The process even accommodates moving parts within the object. Using different powders and bonding agents, color can be applied, and prototype parts can be rendered in plastic, resin, or metal. This technology is commonly used in manufacturing to build prototypes of almost any object (scaled to fit the printer, of course) — models, plastic and metal parts, or any object that can be described in three dimensions.”

Some sources come up in my search: