3D Printing History for Beginners

Are you a student who wished there was a way to take out tangible printouts for your science project without the pain to being good in art? Are you a classic old car lover who wished he could rebuilt the old car lying dismantled somewhere? Are you a doctor and wish everyone’s life could be saved? All these tasks are now performed by a machine called a 3D printer which, under computer control, can carry out these processes with unmatched precision and superior accuracy. A 3D Printer can make anything from metal machine parts, plastic cups to human body parts. 3D printing is not actually printing but manufacturing products where the constant pain of thinking ‘how to make it’ is absolutely zero. 3D printers can generally print out complex designs without any fuss. Application of 3D printing is growing day by day as the advancement of technology is deepening its roots in all industries. Let’s look at the 3D printing history timeline:

  • 3D printing history started when Charles Hull invented stereolithography (SLA) in the year 1984. This stereolithography enabled designers to make 3D models using digital data, which would be recreated into a palpable object. The immense potential of SLA technology came into highlight by the end of 1990’s when fully functional organs were produced. It proved that raw materials used for creating the 3D objects could range from plastics, to metals to human cells.
    Charles Hull stereolithography (SLA)
  • In 2004 a project called RepRap was launched by Dr. Adrian Bowyer’s. It was a concept to create a 3D printer that could basically build itself or at least print most of its parts. The very next year a company called Objet launched a 3D printer that was capable of printing objects using many different types of raw materials. But it was in 2007, that open source 3D printing started to gain visibility.
  • Other 3D printing technologies and processes were also emerging during these years, namely Ballistic Particle Manufacturing (BPM) originally patented by William Masters, Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM) originally patented by Michael Feygin, Solid Ground Curing (SGC) originally patented by Itzchak Pomerantz et al and ‘three dimensional printing’ (3DP) originally patented by Emanuel Sachs et al. And so the early nineties witnessed a growing number of competing companies in the 3D printing market but only three of the originals remain today — 3D Systems, EOS and Stratasys.
  • In the year 2008, the world witnessed a self-replicating printer, Darwin. It enabled people to create more such printers for people who could not afford it. The number started multiplying like a bacterial cell. Later, in the same year, 3D printers made a breakthrough and became popular when a person successfully walked with a 3D printed prosthetic leg consisting of all parts including knee, foot, ankle and socket, all in one structure without any need to assemble the parts.
  • Medically speaking, this was a great decade in the history of 3D printing. Within the span of 10 years, scientists around the world fabricated a functional miniature kidney, built a prosthetic leg with complex component parts that were printed within the same structure and bio printed the first blood vessel using only human cells.
  • It wasn’t until January 2009 that the first commercially available 3D printer – in kit form and based on the RepRap concept – was offered for sale. This was the Bfb RapMan 3D printer. Closely followed by Makerbot Industries in April the same year, the founders of which were heavily involved in the development of RepRap until they departed from the Open Source philosophy following extensive investment.
  • As a result of the market divergence, significant advances at the industrial level with capabilities and applications, dramatic increase in awareness and uptake across a growing maker movement, 2012 was also the year that many different mainstream media channels picked up on the technology. 2013 was a year of significant growth and consolidation. One of the most notable moves was the acquisition of Makerbot by Stratasys.
  • Taking it a step ahead, Shapeways, a co-creation services of 3D printing marketplace where designers get feedback from customers and other designers and then affordably fabricate their products.

3D printing small business | Picture credit: smallbiztrends
Today, the massive growth in the area of 3D printing has enabled many industries to benefit from it. Some of the industries are Aerospace, architecture, automotive, defense, entertainment, healthcare, manufacturing and education. Some of the key noteworthy points that one must know about 3D printing uses are:

  1. 3D printing is supposedly more eco-friendly as compared to the process of manufacturing a particular substance.
  2. It can be used to recycle or fix old items, manufacture items which are now obsolete.
  3. All types of 3D printing have one major thing in common, that is the format that is required for a 3D model is in .STL format so that the printer is able to understand the blueprints that it has to develop.
  4. What is different in all types of 3D printers is the technique they use to solidify as well as the raw materials that are used.
  5. 3D printing is an additive manufacturing process where objects are built up layer by layer without the use of any particular tool.

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