3-D printing comes of age

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Boeing, NASA, Lockheed Martin and GE are among the large corporations that for decades have used additive manufacturing, known more popularly as 3-D printing.

Additive manufacturing is also used prominently in the medical and dental industries — about 80,000 hip implants have been made to date using 3-D printers, and every day some 15,000 tooth crowns and fillings are made with parts from 3-D printers, said Terry Wohlers, an industry analyst.

It was only about six or seven years ago that people began invoking dimensions to give “additive manufacturing” the trendier 3-D printing name. The rise of a movement among consumers known as “maker culture,” a type of do-it-yourself philosophy geared toward engineering-related pursuits such as 3-D printing, robotics and electronics, is one possible explanation for the name change.

But analysts also point to a singular event: the expiration in the late 2000s of a key patent held by Stratasys covering fused deposition modeling. Growth in the consumer market has been impressive since then, because the technology, also known as material extrusion, is now used in other companies 3-D printers.

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