Combined advances in three-dimensional design tools, CNC technologies, and lasers have enabled a steady growth in additive-manufacturing capability. Whereas in the past the technology was confined to simple parts for experimental purposes, today complex geometries with a high degree of precision are produced in the laboratory and on the shop floor. The improved capability leveraged with the advantages described earlier makes additive manufacturing a good fit for a class of products that can be produced effectively in the United States. They are prototypes, products with a high degree of customization and complexity, and products produced in low volume.
The following are brief descriptions of a few of the additive-manufacturing processes that illustrate the use of laser technology to produce parts.
In contrast with photolithography, stereolithography is used in larger-scale products. Developed in 1988, it was the first of the rapid prototyping processes. As shown in Figure 7.11, the stereolithographic process deposits layers of approximately 0.002-0.003 in. thick and uses a UV laser to cure the resin only where the
FIGURE 7.11 Stereolithography schematic. SOURCE: Image by Usdabhade.