The fact that the application of the adjectives rapid and on-demand to the noun manufacturing was novel in the 2000s reveals the long-prevailing mental model of the previous industrial era during which almost all production manufacturing had involved long lead times for laborious tooling development.

Other terms that have been used as synonyms or hypernyms have included desktop manufacturing, rapid manufacturing (as the logical production-level successor to rapid prototyping), and on-demand manufacturing (which echoes on-demand printing in the 2D sense of printing).

3D printing and additive manufacturing reflect that the technologies share the theme of material addition or joining throughout a 3D work envelope under automated control. Peter Zelinski, the editor-in-chief of Additive Manufacturing magazine, pointed out in 2017 that the terms are still often synonymous in casual usage

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