The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) recently published an updated standard—based in large part on research by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—that includes language specifically for additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing). ASME’s standard, titled Y14.46 Product Definition for Additive Manufacturing, identifies important features unique to 3D printing and outlines how they should be documented.

Since the 1940s, engineers have used a common design language (i.e., a set of definitions, symbols, and practices) to draft engineering drawings that can serve as clear manufacturing blueprints or inspection checklists. While this system still works well for many traditional manufacturing methods, it has not equipped engineers to produce clear and consistent design documents for additive manufacturing. This absence of standard methods of communication leaves room for information about 3D-printing designs to be lost in translation.

The new guidance could help engineers from a broad array of industries communicate to manufacturers, product inspectors, and others more effectively. Its widespread adoption could clear a persistent roadblock to the application of 3D printing at a larger scale, unlocking the environmental and economic benefits associated with the technology.

“The industry is in a digital transformation right now, moving away from physical 2D drawings, and additive manufacturing is one of the catalysts since it requires digital 3D models,” said Fredric Constantino, an ASME project engineering adviser. “And if you’re working on one of those models, this standard will guide you in making it understandable to both 3D printers and other people.”

Additional details are available at