3D printing -- also known as additive manufacturing -- turns digital 3D models into solid objects by building them up in layers. The technology was first invented in the 1980s, and since that time has been used for rapid prototyping (RP). However, in the last few years, 3D printing has additionally started to evolve into a next-generation manufacturing technology that has the potential to allow the local, on-demand production of final products or parts thereof.
Already it is possible to 3D print in a wide range of materials that include thermoplastics, thermoplastic composites, pure metals, metal alloys, ceramics and various forms of food. Right now, 3D printing as an end-use manufacturing technology is still in its infancy. But in the coming decades, and in combination with synthetic biology and nanotechnology, it has the potential to radically transform many design, production and logistics processes.