Industrial Grade 3D Printers Defined

The conundrum about how to define “industrial grade 3D printers” is one more sign of our industry’s maturation. The term has had many definitions over time. Today, as industry guru Todd Grimm pointed out in a recent article, we need something much better than definitions such as “3D printers costing more than x,xxx dollars.”

Tech providers ask for the definition in order to segment their markets. End users want to purchase industrial grade 3D printers that meet their business requirements. (And to prove to their dismissive senior managers that 3D printers are not plastic toys.) Researchers need a definition to support their forecast findings.

The first US Air Force aircraft replacement parts authorized for use after being printed on a Stratasys F900 3D printer, August 15, 2019 (U.S. Air Force photo by Louis Briscese, AFNS)

How do we write a definition? 

I prefer the “Purdue style” which results in a definition “based upon a concise, logical pattern that includes as much information as it can within a minimum amount of space.” Why is this important? “The primary reason to include definitions in your writing is to avoid misunderstanding with your audience.” 

Makes sense, right? I have no doubt that you cannot count the number of times you thought a term or phrase meant one thing and another person – your parents, your spouse, your boss, your customer, whomever – had a different definition in mind. With hilarious results (well, sometimes).

What is the definition of industrial grade 3D printers?

”Industrial grade printers are additive manufacturing devices that primarily produce items destined for use within or by a manufacturing or service organization.”

Let’s break the definition into its components:

– Additive manufacturing: A process that produces items by continuously adding material, generally layer-by-layer. AM is distinguished from conventional manufacturing processes such as machining, forming and molding. 

– Devices: A neutral, non-pejorative term to describe the machine, printer or what-have-you that physically makes the items.

– Primarily: Recognition that like virtually every manufacturing process, sometimes the item produced has nothing to do with what the device was intended to make when it was purchased. The ‘secondary’ items could range from trinkets for a trade show to a new product offering. 

– Produce items: The use of one or more of the current (and future) AM technologies to make things. The items are limited by the designer’s imagination, available software and machine capabilities. 

– Destined for use: The place within the AM user’s organization or external to the organization. Internal uses within the organization range from product development to manufacturing aids. External uses are the production of items destined to be purchased by a customer for use “as is” or as a subassembly of a larger product that the customer buys. 

– Manufacturing or service organization: Companies that use devices to produce items for their own use or for sale. These organizations are not educational institutions, research laboratories, military organizations or governments. The printers must meet the business needs of the company at the time it is purchased.

What do you think?

How does the definition – ”Industrial grade printers are additive manufacturing devices that primarily produce items destined for use within or by a manufacturing or service organization” – align with your thinking?

Let us help you look outside the box – Whether a user who is learning about 3D printing, convincing management to invest in additive manufacturing or a vendor developing new products and services, we are here to enable you. Schedule a meeting now at