History of 3D Printing – The Evolution of 3D Printers

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MakerBot 3D Printer – CC 2.0 (source)

Every designer and manufacturer is anxious to experiment with 3D printing technology. The prospects for 3D printing span from manufacturing to medicine and architecture among other industries. Right now it might sound like a space-age invention, but the truth is this type of technological innovation has been in existence for over 40 years.

What is 3D Printing?

Techies know it best as the additive manufacturing – it’s the process of creating 3-dimensional objects from the digital file. This involves a step by step laying down a fine layer of materials until the solid object shapes into form. You can produce complex and efficiently functional objects using fewer materials with this kind of technology. 3D printing is also faster than standard manufacturing processes.

No one is immune to the excitement. The scientific transformation of ideas into tangible objects that make our lives more comfortable and enjoyable by the touch of a button must have been the dream of our forefathers. So, when was3d printing invented?

History of 3D Printing: The Original Minds

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3D Printed Jet Engine Turbine Model (source)

The evolution of 3D printing technology started in the 1980s. In its early days, this technology was exclusively expensive, and its use was limited to the production of complex objects, like aircraft parts, and parts of Formula One race cars. These products were valuable enough to balance the costs for such sophisticated technology.

1981 Hideo Kodama

The future (of 3D printing) we are all about to be a part of started with Hideo Kodama in 1981. This Japanese doctor researched and published studies of a working rapid prototyping system that used photopolymers. He applied for a patent on this device, but he ran out of funds to bring the project to completion before the patent deadline.

1984-1988 Charles Hull

In 1984, Charles Hull invented stereolithography. This technique allowed for the creation of 3D models using a controlled computer laser beam to create the structure from a polymer liquid that solidifies under laser lights. This invention was big news, allowing innovators to create prototype models of their designs at a lower cost.

Charles got the patent for this product, and in the same year, he started his company called 3D Systems. Their first 3D printed product was the SLA-1, in 1988. This method of 3D printing was expensive, and there were occasional flaws in the final results after the material solidified.

1988–1992 Carl Deckard and Scot Cramp

In the same year as Charles made the SLA-1, Carl Deckard invented another 3D printing technology. His technology used selective laser sintering (SLS). This machine also known as the Betsy was only able to make simple plastic models. At that time print quality wasn’t of the highest priority.

As Carl Deckard waited for his patent approval for the SLS, Scot Crump submitted another patent for 3D printing known as FDM. Fused modeling 3D printing was the most straightforward technology of both SLA and SLS. Scot later got the license and founded Stratasys which is today a leading company in the manufacture of 3D printers.

1999–2010: various scientists

1999 was the year when the first 3D-printed organ was implanted in a person. Scientists printed synthetic frameworks of a human bladder and lined it with cells from the patient’s body. The generated tissue was inserted into the patient with a minimal chance that their body would reject it.

Scientists from different organizations also made functional miniature kidneys, prosthetic legs and blood vessels using 3D bioprinters. In 2005, Dr. Adrian Bowyer made a 3D printer that could print or replicate it. The first SLS 3D printer became commercially available in 2006. This made it possible for custom manufacturing of industrial parts.

Present Day

Today, it feels like we are already living in the future. 3D printing is affordable even for ordinary consumers, and people now create all sorts of things using this technology at home.
Currently, 3D printing is less expensive, and its efficiency has been steadily improving. Many manufacturing companies that deal with medical devices are trying this technology on an industrial scale. Other manufacturers are successfully using 3D printing in the making of furniture and other household items en masse.

As an improvement to the earliest installations, today we have desktop 3D printers that can be used by anyone with basic computer knowledge. You also don’t need to have a fat Swiss account to afford the printers- they are just about the same cost as a desktop computer.

Present day 3D printers are small in size and can be used to produce little utilities like jewelry, gear wraps, phone cases, figurines from art drawings and 3D fetus scans. Designers are particularly finding this technology to be indispensable.

The Future of 3D Printing

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Future of 3D Printing (source)

Efficiency to the max

We can be cautiously optimistic that 3D printing technology will continue to be more affordable for everyday use at home. We also expect that the printers will improve in efficiency, accuracy, and adaptability. The improvements will likely be accompanied by innovations in the range of 3D printing materials.

Power to the people

Another future of 3D printing is that users will get to control how their final products look. In the spirit of customizing end products from alterable concept designs users might be able to produce a variety of food items from printable food materials, amputees will be able to custom-create prosthetics that fit right, and it will also be the same case with dental fixtures among other utilities.

Another industrial revolution

Additionally, the future of 3D printing will involve making replicas of lost or damaged products. If you combine such possibilities with robotics, Internet of Things and Big data, you will have a business landscape that no one would have predicted. But customers will continue to be kings.

In the end, when the only way to get products to consumers will be through 3D printing, manufacturers might have to set up 3D printing shops in towns and residential areas where users can make products. Early innovators are already testing and trying such business models.

Time might be up for control-freak investors

Designers will not need investors to approve their prototypes. Anyone with a mind to create the digital concept of a product will be able to get their products out to the market. The products will move from design to use or consumption without passing through the manufacturing process.

Although we are expecting 3D printing to grow further in popularity, scientists are already thinking about 4D and 5D. It is not how much the world needs inventions. It is how fast it can catch up.

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