History of 3D Printing

3D printing has now become one of the most revolutionary technologies in the world of design, manufacturing, and even education. Now it’s one of the quickest growing hobbies. But things haven’t always been this way. 3D printing has a longer history than you might think…

What is 3D Printing?

3D printing is a technology that allows you to use a specialized printer to generate physical objects (3D prints) within just hours of designing them on a computer.

There are different types of 3D printer, but they all work by building up successive layers of material. Because of the way they work, 3D printing is also known as additive manufacturing, which is the opposite of traditional manufacturing methods, which start with a large block of material and subtract from it.

3D printing is considered one of the main pillars of the third industrial revolution.

Who Invented 3D Printing?

In 1981, a researcher, named Hideo Kodama and working for the Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute, published an account on how photopolymers (materials that harden upon exposure to UV light) could be used to fabricate solid prototypes. Although he wasn’t the first to manufacture the first 3D printer, he laid the groundwork for its development. 

Charles Hull (also known as Chuck Hull) was, however, the creator of the first 3D printer that used the Stereolithography technique. That was back in 1984 when he was working for a company that made tough and durable coatings for tables using UV lamps. Using the same ultraviolet technology, he was able to make small prototypes in the lab he worked in. Charles Hull was actually one of the first people to actualize his abstract ideas through 3D technology.

The science behind his printing involved photopolymers stored in a liquid state as they awaited reaction with ultraviolet light. Charles Hull developed Stereolithography. This is a system that uses a beam of UV light to sketch out an object’s shape using a liquid photopolymer. 

Hull patented his technology in 1984 just three weeks after three French inventors filed a patent for the same invention. The French inventors known as Alain Le Mehaute, Jean Claude Andre, and Olivier de Witte would later back down after their employers pulled off from developing the technology citing “lack of business perspective.” Luckily, Charles Hull could now copyright the term “Stereolithography.” He got the issuance of his patent titled “Apparatus for Production of Three- Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography” on March 11, 1986. 

In the same year, Charles Hull founded a company called 3D Systems in Valencia, California. It specializes in the sale of 3D printers that use various technologies. The company is still going strong today with its products ranging from entry-level kits to highly advanced commercial 3D printing systems. Other than that, they also sell on-demand parts and offer 3D related services to the business community.

The development of the 3D printers using Hull’s technology did not stop with the inventor. Other innovators have since come up with more 3D printing techniques using a variety of materials and different concepts. 

Types of 3D Printing

3D printing is extensive and covers various additive manufacturing technologies. Here are some of the kinds of 3D printing technologies found in the market today: 

Stereolithography

As discussed earlier, this is one of the earliest technologies in the world of 3D printing. You will notice that it is also the most widespread 3D printing technique around the world right now. It creates the 3D shapes through the use of a high-powered laser that hardens a liquid resin contained in a reservoir.

Stereolithography has been used as a way of rapid manufacturing prototype parts for many years in the automotive industry.

The process involves the conversion of photosensitive liquid into 3D solid plastics. It follows a layer to layer sequence. A low-power laser and photopolymerization are also essential. 

Where stereolithography began as an expensive tool for large industry, it has now become available to home users. Inexpensive resin-based 3D printers are used by hobbyists to create highly detailed 3d prints in their own homes.

A Stereolithography based 3D printer will have specific distinct attributes, but we have four main ones. Here they are;

  • A computer interface whose primary function is to manage the laser movements and the platform 
  • An ultraviolet laser
  • A perforated platform dipped in a tank. The platform is immersed in the tank but can freely move up and down, depending on the printing process. 
  • A tank filled with resin (a clear and fluid plastic used in the printing process). 

Pros

  • It is one of the most straight forward methods. Understanding it will not take you years. 
  • Objects printed through this technique tend to have very smooth surfaces. 
  • It could build volumes that are as high as 500 x 500 x 500 centimeters without sacrificing accuracy. 
  • SLA can create prototypes with excellent quality, sophisticated shapes, and finely detailed features. 

Cons

  • It can be a slow process
  • The printing costs could be comparatively high compared to other 3D printing methods. 
  • Parts require post-processing to obtain useable surface finishes

Fused Deposition Modeling

Also known as fused filament fabrication, FDM is a technique that was developed by Scott Crump in 1988. It has been trademarked by Stratasys Inc., one of the leading builders of FDM-based 3D printers. It primarily involves rapid prototyping techniques that result in quick, clean, and cost-friendly prototypes. 

FDM works by feeding a CAD created STL file to an FDM system. The system then sends commands that are design-specific to a controller head whose function is to release melted thermoplastic over a thin layer. There is a repetition of the same process layer by layer depending on the specific design coordinates. The melted thermoplastic hardens into a solid object as soon as it gets exposed to colder conditions. 

FDM technology is so simple that it has rapidly been adopted in readily available 3D printers for home and educational use. 3D printing is now one of the fastest-growing hobbies.

Pros

  • It can use a variety of thermoplastic materials and also print exotic filaments that are modified and upgraded to your liking. 
  • FDM printing can easily be scaled to any size without many hurdles compared to other printing techniques. 

Cons

  • It may result in low-quality prints due to the extrusion of materials in layers, making it hard to achieve high detail prints. 

Selective Laser Sintering

Carl Deckard, a graduate from the University of Texas, was the inventor of this revolutionary additive manufacturing technique. He was awarded a patent for inventing the method in 1989. It involves a laser beam custom-binding powdered materials together, creating a layer of the object in the process. After the formation of every successive layer, there is the addition of fresh powder. This signals the final step in the production of 3D parts. 

Pros

  • It is a fast method of printing, making it a more practical and economical approach for businesses
  •  SLS prints are naturally porous, making them suitable absorbents for water and other liquids. They are an excellent option if you want to dye some of the parts
  •  The prints are self-supporting and may not need any support structure thanks to the unused powder that automatically fills any hollow spaces. This ensures you can enjoy design freedom and not suffer from overhanging features
  •  The layer adhesion on the prints is robust, giving them virtually isotropic mechanical characteristics 

Cons

  • The prints could easily warp or shrink, resulting in a dimensionally incorrect product. 
  •  It is not an economical method as acquiring an SLS printer is more expensive compared to other printers. 

Selective Laser Melting

The type of 3D printing that is really going to revolutionize big industry is Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), also known as Selective Laser Melting (SLM). This technology uses a laser to heat thin layers of metal powder, building up a fully metallic part, layer by layer. An electron beam may also be used.

Because DMLS is an additive process, it’s possible to create many complex shapes that would be impossible to manufacture using conventional techniques. Objects with thin walls, lattice structures, and extreme undercuts can be printed easily with this method, where traditional machining would not be possible.

SLM was first carried out in 1995 at the Fraunhofer Institute in Aachen, Germany, this resulted in a patent application for SLM technology.

SLM can be used with metal materials as far-ranging as Aluminum, Stainless Steel, Titanium, and Tungsten.

Pros

  • For complex shapes, it can be faster than traditional manufacturing methods
  • SLM can create forms that would be impossible by conventional methods
  • The layer adhesion on the prints is robust, giving them virtually isotropic mechanical characteristics

Cons

  • Prints can be susceptible to warping, especially where substantial changes in the area are seen
  • SLM machines require special safety precautions as they make use of inert gases
  • SLM parts need the removal of support structures and post-processing to achieve a finish comparable with CNC machining or molding

How 3D Printing Has Changed Manufacturing

Manufacturing is one of the most critical sectors in the world. It is one of the leading GDP contributors as well as a source of employment for many. Improvement in manufacturing would mean that there are significant changes felt by everyone, and it seems 3D printing is well on its way to doing that. This technology has brought in a wide array of benefits to the manufacturing community, and here are some of them. 

It Saves On Costs

When you are into manufacturing, you try to find any way that you can reduce costs. Labor is one of the factors that may increase your production costs, and if you are not keen enough, you might end up spending more than you should. 

During the development of a prototype, lots of labor is needed. It even gets worse if you are using traditional prototyping methodologies whereby the production runs on expensive CNC machined injection molds. That is, however, not the case when it comes to 3D printing. With just one person issuing a printing command, you will get all the work done and save some money in the process.  

Faster Production

One of the goals you would want to achieve in the manufacturing process is fast production with no downtime. 3D printing is one way that you could use to accomplish quicker production. It beats convectional manufacturing hands down since it allows you to test ideas and designs faster. Unlike conventional manufacturing methods that could take up to several days or weeks to come up with the final product, 3D printing will only need a few days at most. When there are faster designs and prototype production, you can bet that you will have more time to iterate the prototype and find the product-market fit before your competitors catch up with you. 

Better Quality

Quality is the primary determinant of the sales that you are likely to make as a business in the manufacturing sector. In this era of vast and diverse choices for buyers, you may not record-high sales if the quality of goods you produce is wanting. For instance, a person will go for a cake that is adequately mixed as opposed to one whose ingredients have been combined without any order. Cakes aside, traditional manufacturing methods will most likely give you poor designs. In the end, they will provide you with imperfect quality prototypes that lead to equally poor products. But 3D printing ensures a step by step assembly of an object. Consequently, you are guaranteed excellent quality designs even when you commence mass production. 

Risk Reduction

You wouldn’t want to invest in an expensive molding tool before verifying that you got the best product design. Luckily, 3D printing technology allows you to check your product prototypes before spending a fortune on manufacturing investments that may sometimes not yield anything. 

Leads to Less Waste 

Wastage of resources means more losses for any business. If you decide to use other prototyping techniques like CNC cutting or injection molding, you might end up wasting lots of resources. This is because both involve removing materials from solid blocks. 3D printing, however, consists of the usage of materials that are only enough to make the needed prototype. You will also opt to reuse the same material if need be, leading to an excellent saving on materials. Subsequently, this ensures that there is very little or no wastage at all. 

It Can Be Implemented Using Various Raw Materials

Using injection molds or subtractive manufacturing always poses one key challenge. You have to get the specific materials that are compatible with their use. These techniques may also not support the blending of different raw materials, and this could make it more expensive for you to create prototypes. 3D printing easily accommodates various raw materials, including silver, biomaterial, ceramics, paper, metal, and glass. This gives you enough flexibility to use the materials that are aligned with your budget.

You Could Create Unlimited Shapes and Geometry

With all the creativity you got, you may not actualize all your ideas if you are using old manufacturing techniques. This is because the methods use molds and cutting technologies to come up with your desired shapes, which is not ideal for multidimensional forms. If you want to design complicated forms, then 3D printing will do it for you. With proper materials, you can create anything you ever thought about.

It Is Easily Accessible

The advantage that comes with 3D printing is that you do not have to hustle to get access to it. Since 2010, it has become more popular due to its easy-to-use software and hardware compared to its competition. Learning about it will take you the shortest time possible, and if you intend to incorporate it into your production cycle, it will only take you a few days. With the invention of 3D pens, designers can now create any product they need at any time and place. 

You Can Create Tangible Designs and Test out The Products

Being in a position to have the real feel of a prototype cannot be compared to viewing it on a screen. 3D printing gives you the chance to touch and feel the product prototype. It also lets you physically test the design just in case there are any flaws. By doing this, you can learn of any errors and drawbacks and modify it.

Creativity in Prototyping 

You will always feel an overwhelming sense of freedom and happiness once you can create your designs. Unlike traditional manufacturing techniques where you can only produce copies of the same thing, 3D printing allows you to explore and personalize any design you would want to. Instead of sticking to the old and boring plans that you might be tired of, you can reinvent your own styled or customized ones. With the ability to personalize any design according to the customer’s request, you can accommodate any client’s request. For instance, you could make braces that are specially made to fit in a patient’s dental formula reducing the number of times he/she may need to visit a dentist. 

How 3D Printing Is Changing Other Aspects of Society

3D printing has also had an effect on other aspects of society as well as manufacturing. Here is how 3D printing technology is impacting our lives today.

Contributing To Environmental Conservation

While most technological advancements lead to environmental degradation, some are keen on conserving it. 3D printing can help in saving the environment in a couple of ways. First, being an additive manufacturing technique, it cuts on the amount of waste produced. Additionally, it reduces the use of fuel for shipping purposes since it has made it possible to print on-site. You would, therefore, not need to ship things that are easily accessible to you. Lastly, it allows for the recycling of plastics and other materials that are grounded up to form a filament used for printing. Doesn’t this make the world a better place for everyone? 

Helps Build On Creativity 

Were it not for creativity, 3D printing could never exist. It helps you become more innovative and give you a platform in which you can showcase your talent. Also, it creates employment in the sense that you get paid to create a product. 

It Saves Lives!

You will be amazed to know that 3D printing saves lives. With the ability to print organs, scientists can now create 3D tissues that can be used for research and transplants. Remember, a 3D printer can pile organic matter methodically into thin layers that can be used in building tissues and organs. This has to be one of the more significant steps in the field of medicine. It will soon do away with the need to keep waiting for healthy matching organs if you need them. Doctors will only need to take the right cells from the patient’s body and print out the required organ using this technology. 

Provides Affordable Housing

3D printing is one of the techniques that could be used to solve the homelessness predicament in society. For example, we have seen a 600-800 square foot story building go up in less than twenty-four hours thanks to 3D printing. If implemented, everyone in the community could get the privilege to live in a decent and affordable house. 

Future of 3D Printing

Although 3D printing was developed in the twentieth century, it continues to change the way things are done. Today, 3D printing has changed everything, including the way we design our earrings, build our houses, and even how we get our organ transplants. It is because of these reasons why the future of 3D printing holds a lot of immense promise. So, what are some of the significant 3D breakthroughs we have witnessed so far, and what does the future hold in the coming few years? 

Expansion in Fashion Design

Through 3D printing, people have come up with more beautiful and creative pieces. Nowadays, designers can print anything directly on the fabric, incorporate flexible materials that make seams invisible as well as add printed fixtures to pieces. Footwear designers have not been left behind too. There could be the possibility of producing personalized soles in the near term without any issues. With all this creativity in design, the fashion industry can only get better, and 3D printing will power that growth. It’s an exciting time, isn’t it? 

Advancement in the World of Medicine

Applications of 3D technology in medicine are quite a lot these days, and they may even get better in the long run. While traditionally organ transplants are supposed to come from other human beings, 3D technology has made it possible to manufacture them in a manner that fits you. While bioprinting is likely to suffer many ethical issues in the future, it might be the next big thing when it comes to transplants. 

Designers are producing durable and customized prosthetics faster, thanks to 3D printing as well. Soon, they will be more tailored to offer the clients the best value. There might also be the production of more drugs that are cheaper and more effective thanks to 3D technology. 

Developments of the Automotive and Aerospace Production

3D printing has brought significant changes in industrial applications. It has helped save lots of time and labor through fast production time, provide pinpoint accuracy as well as do away with post-manufacturing processes. 

In years to come, there will be more materials that have better printing properties. Customizable cars will also be possible, with clients having the chance to give the specifications for the vehicles they want to be manufactured. In aerospace, plans to have a rocket engine printed with aluminum are already there. This step will go a long way in making rocket construction and operation more cost-friendly. 

Architecture and Construction

3D has provided cheaper houses with enhanced models. But these models may get more sophisticated in the future. Building them may also take a shorter period leading to more development or affordable housing solutions in the future. 

Wrap Up

In conclusion, 3D printing technology will continue to remain relevant even in a hundred years to come. This is because of the fact that it undoubtedly fills a unique niche that helps in the production of a wide variety of products. In this era of 3D printing, expect many more products to be more affordable and accessible. The bounds of creativity will also be pushed further as more designers explore what 3D printing has to offer.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top