3D printing has now become an omnipresent technology due to the wide media coverage it receives and the fact that it has successfully entered the market for consumer use. The origins of 3D printing can however be traced back to over 30 years ago during the 1980s. Contrary to popular belief 3D printing has been widely available for industrial use for a while, but has only recently penetrated the end user market for private consumers.
What we refer to as 3D printing today was appropriately called Additive Manufacturing or Rapid Prototyping in the late 1980s, a time when the technology was in its nascent stages. One of the first patents filed for rapid prototyping was by Dr. Kodama in Japan. Dr. Kodama however was unable to obtain a patent due to some delays. On the other hand, Charles Hull, who co-founded the company 3D Systems, successfully filed a patent for a technology known as Stereolithography Apparatus or Stereolithography as it is known today, in 1986. He is thus considered the father of 3D printing.
Large amounts of research was conducted in the 1990s, to build items which were readily applicable in manufacturing. However, the research only yielded processes that were good for prototyping purposes and hence the technology was limited when it came to printing original 3D models.
Early 2000s saw the rise of industrial 3D printers, which were suited to building complex parts, with high value and complex geometry. Around the same time, low cost 3D printers useful for concept modelling and functional prototyping arrived on the scene. These were however, not yet suited for use in the end user market and remained exclusive for industrial applications. In 2004, Dr. Bowyer successfully invented an open source 3D printer that used a deposition process for printing models. This was the origin of ‘Desktop 3D printing’. The BfB RapMan 3D printer, was the first commercial printer to use this concept. By 2012, Fused Deposition Modeling or FDM became the most popular 3D printing method and many new 3D printers were launched using this technology.
Today the 3D printing technology and 3D printers are being used across a wide range of industries like Aerospace, Healthcare, Defense, Education, Construction & Civil Engineering; to name a few. As the technology and processes concerned with 3D printing continue to mature, concerns are being raised about the effect it will have on employment of low skilled workers around the world. Needless, to say with emphasis on reducing pollution and efficient waste management the technology is here to stay.