Digital production includes workflows, which have as a final outcome a physical object but are designed by digital means and produced by a machine.
This includes simple processes like printing or plotting designs or images on paper using a printer or a plotter (today, these two “print” the same way, except the plotter is larger). Model parts can be cut from a flat sheet of material (cardboard, plexiglass, plywood, etc.) using a laser cutter or a CNC (computer numerical control) cutter.
Both, laser cutter and CNC cutter use as input mainly a vector drawing which the machine interprets as a plan to generate cutting paths. CNC cutter is more flexible and can be fitted with different cutting tools (rotating spindle, oscillating knife, etc.), which enables it to carve out thick material. This technique is similar to sculpting and can be used to produce objects with complex and detailed geometries.
Finally, fully three-dimensional objects can be produced by the means of 3D printing, which is a form of additive manufacturing. The input for a 3D printer is a 3D model (usually an STL file) which the machine fabricates through depositing thin layers in height. There are many different 3D-printing techniques that use materials like plastic (PLA and ABS), various polymers, gypsum, etc. 3D printing is a rapidly developing field and new, better, and more affordable machines are becoming available.
The disadvantage of 3D printing is that it is still a rather slow production process as sometimes models take days to print. Also, the range of materials is limited although constantly expanding. Still, digital production is a vibrant field, and today it is already possible to print entire buildings in concrete using large-scale gantry systems.
In the context of a design office, digital production is used for the production of precise and detailed models, while product designers can create fully functional prototypes of their designs. Combined with computational design to create intricate 3D models, digital production is pushing the boundaries of aesthetics and functionality and is at the forefront of contemporary design.