A 26-year-old manufacturing process is gaining traction around the world as a cheaper alternative to traditional machining.
Some experts call additive manufacturing, a process in which parts are created by building up layer after layer of material, the next industrial revolution. Others say the process will remain a niche technique.
Either way, it's growing. Additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, is a $1.7 billion annual business and is projected to reach $3.1 billion by 2016, according to Wohlers Associates Inc., a consultant in Fort Collins, Colo.
Created and patented in 1986 by Chuck Hull, founder, of 3D Systems Corp. of Rock Hill, S.C., additive manufacturing had meager beginnings. Hull called it stereolithography and used a beam of ultraviolet light to solidify a thin layer of liquid plastic into a prescribed shape. The process is then repeated hundreds or thousands of times.