The History of 3D Printing

3D printing

Whilst most people see 3D printing as a very recent and new technology it is probably much older than you think. The first evidence of 3D printing was actually back in the 1980’s. The concept hasn’t changed too much and producing 3 dimensional objects by printing out layers of various materials which then build up into a solid object has remained the same throughout. However, understandably, the technology has moved on considerably since then. Let’s have a brief look through the history of 3D printing.

The 1980’s and 90’s

 The first time that additive manufacturing was really noted was in 1981. In this year, Hideo Kodama from the Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute in Japan developed 2 methods of additive fabrication using photopolymers. Through these, he was able to produce a cross-section of a 3D model. Following this, in 1984, 2 separate patents were filed for the process of stereolithography. The team from France removed their patent application due to a lack of expected business opportunities and Chuck Hull was left to file the patent unchallenged. Stereolithography involves the production of 3D computer models which can then be used to produce physical objects. Photopolymers can be cured by ultra violet lasers which causes them to harden and this can be moulded to produce an object. The main use of this process was to test out prototype designs at a huge saving on costs. By the early 90’s the complexity of the objects which were able to be produced increased significantly with the advent of stereolithographic apparatus machines and selective laser sintering machines.

The 2000’s

By this time, scientists had managed to create 3D printed organs. This was a ground-breaking development and it became possible to produce a synthetic scaffold onto which human cells would be attached. This made the possibilities within medical science incredible and pushed it forward in ways previously unimaginable. Various organs and limbs were able to be produced over the decade. The 2000’s also saw the first desktop 3D printers which was something not previously possible. This brought 3D printing closer to the home market and more accessible. 2005 saw the invention of a 3D printer, in the Reprap project, which was able to self-replicate to a certain extent. This meant that it could print out many of its own parts. By 2008, Thingiverse was launched which was a free website which provided free 3 dimensional models which could be shared. This took the printing to an even more accessible level.

The 2010’s

As people were now more readily available to 3D print themselves and in their own homes at reduced costs, the audience grew and grew. 3D printer gear was starting to be purchased by far more people, with the buzz of interest taking it out of the niche sector and into the mass market. Materials which could be used to print objects with have diversified enormously and people have a greater personal input on what they can print now. In the last few years we have seen the first 3D printed car and printing is being seen within school classrooms. It seems that we are only a few years away from realising actual Star Trek replicators. It’s an exciting time to be alive!