When was the first 3d printer

When Was 3D Printing Invented? The History of 3D Printing -

May 15, 2020

When you first heard the words “3D printing” did you imagine a super futuristic technology, like in the movies but, when was it really invented?

While the term 3D printing may sound like something you’d expect to hear in a science fiction novel, the history of 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is longer than you might think. 

Keep reading to learn about the history of 3D printing, and our BCN3D predictions on where we see this technology going in the future. 

The History of 3D Printing in 3 Phases

The 1980s: When Was 3D Printing Invented?

The first documented iterations of 3D printing can be traced back to the early 1980s in Japan. In 1981, Hideo Kodama was trying to find a way to develop a rapid prototyping system. He came up with a layer-by-layer approach for manufacturing, using a photosensitive resin that was polymerized by UV light.  

Although Kodama was unable to file the patent requirement of this technology, he is most often credited as being the first inventor of this manufacturing system, which is an early version of the modern SLA machine.

Across the world a few years later, a trio of French researchers was also seeking to create a rapid prototyping machine. Instead of resin, they sought to create a system that cured liquid monomers into solids by using a laser. 

Similar to Kodama, they were unable to file a patent for this technology, but they are still credited with coming up with the system.

That same year, Charles Hull, filed the first patent for Stereolithography (SLA). An American furniture builder who was frustrated with not being able to easily create small custom parts, Hull developed a system for creating 3D models by curing photosensitive resin layer by layer. 

In 1986 he submitted his patent application for the technology, and in 1988 he went on to found the 3D Systems Corporation. The first commercial SLA 3D printer, the SLA-1, was released by his company in 1988. 

But SLA wasn’t the only additive manufacturing process being explored during this time. 

In 1988, Carl Deckard at the University of Texas filed the patent for Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) technology. This system fused powders, instead of liquid, using a laser.

SLS fabrication machines in the Fundació CIM warehouse

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) was also patented around the same time by Scott Crump. FDM, also called Fused Filament Fabrication, differs from SLS and SLA in that rather than using light, the filament is directly extruded from a heated nozzle. FFF technology has gone on to become the most common form of 3D printing we see today.

These three technologies are not the only types of 3D printing methods that exist. But, they are the three that serve as the building blocks that would lay the groundwork for the technology to grow and for the industry to be disrupted.

1990-2010: Growth 

In the 90s, many companies and startups began popping up and experimenting with the different additive manufacturing technologies. In 2006, the first commercially available SLS printer was released, changing the game in terms of creating on-demand manufacturing of industrial parts.

CAD tools also became more available at this time, allowing people to develop 3D models on their computers. This is one of the most important tools in the early stages of creating a 3D print.

During this time, the machines were very different from those that we use now. They were difficult to use, expensive, and many of the final prints required a lot of post-processing. But innovations were happening every day and discoveries, methods, and practices were being refined and invented.

Then, in 2005, Open Source changed the game for 3D printing, giving people more access to this technology. Dr. Adrian Bowyer created the RepRap Project, which was an open-source initiative to create a 3D printer that could build another 3D printer, along with other 3D printed objects.

RepRapBCN in the middle of Fundacio CIM warehouse showing the RepRap Machines to visitors. 

In 2008, the first prosthetic leg was printed, propelling 3D printing into the spotlight and introducing the term to millions across the globe. 

Then, in 2009, the FDM patents filed in the 80s fell into the public domain, altering the history of 3D printing and opening the door for innovation. Because the technology was now more available to new companies and competition, the prices of 3D printers began to decrease and 3D printing became more and more accessible.

3D Printing Now

In the 2010s, the prices of 3D printers started to decline, making them available to the general public. Along with the lowering prices, the quality and ease of printing also increased. 

The materials that printers use have also evolved. Now there are a variety of plastics and filaments that are widely available. Materials like Carbon Fiber and Glass Fiber can also be 3D printed. Some creatives are even experimenting with printing materials like chocolate or pasta! 

In 2019, the world’s largest functional 3D printed building was completed. 3D printing is now consistently used in developing hearing aids and other healthcare applications, and many industries and sectors have adopted the technology into their everyday workflow.

It’s safe to say that the history of 3D printing is still being written.

Innovations and ideas are created every day. We’re very excited to see what’s next!

History of 3D Printing Timeline: Who Invented 3D Printing

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The first 3D printer ever created was made in 1983 by Chuck Hull.

The 3D printing buzz began a few years ago, catching the attention of the wider public in a big way. The media played a huge role in making “3D printing” the latest watchword in technological innovation. They began to showcase the true potential of this fascinating industry on a frequent basis. Since then, 3D printing has taken the nation by storm. People love the idea of being able to create all kinds of custom products as and when they need them. Yet despite this recent phenomenon, 3D printing has been with us for a while. It’s been around for a lot longer than most people realize, that’s for sure. The aim of this guide is to walk you through the detailed history of 3D printing. We’ll start from its early beginnings up to the present day and beyond.

3D printing In Layman’s Terms

Before moving on, it’s important to define 3D printing in laymen’s terms for the uninitiated readers. If you already understand the workings of 3D technology, feel free to skip this section. For everyone else, it’ll pay you to read through it. Don’t worry; we’re not going to get too technical here.

You’ll often hear others refer to 3D printing as additive manufacturing (AM). The latter involves the whole process of making 3D solid objects from computer-generated files, or digital files. The actual 3D printing process is only one part of the entire procedure. Despite this, the two terms are largely interchangeable these days, so for the sake of simplicity we’ll use 3D printing most of the time.

So what is 3D printing exactly and why should you care?

3D printing technology has begun to revolutionize the way we produce entire physical objects and parts in the last few years. The range of things produced by 3D printing today is vast, and continues to get more ambitious. At the time of writing, we can 3D print anything from simple toys to clothing to tools. We can also use the technology to produce musical instruments and even human body parts. Yes, you did read that right. The potential, it seems, is endless.

How does 3D printing work exactly?

The best way to describe 3D printing is to look at how a regular inkjet printer works. First we create the computerized file, whatever form that’s in. This could be a word processor file, a spreadsheet, or an image, etc. Once our file is ready we upload it to the printer via the computer, and then press the ‘PRINT’ button. The printer then extrudes (forces) ink from a nozzle onto the paper. After a single print cycle, the end result is a two-dimensional representation of the digital file. 3D printing operates in a similar way. The main differences are with the materials used and extra print-cycles.

With 3D printing, you also need to upload a digital file to the printer. You’ll see these files referred to as 3D models, 3D computer graphics, CAD files, and more. Whatever they are, the 3D printer needs a file before it can print your design. 3D printing uses special types of ink, known as filaments. These can range from thermoplastics to metals, glass, paper and even wood substances. We’ll look more into 3D printing materials later. And the other main difference is that 3D printing has to go through many print cycles, or layers, to produce a physical object. This is where it gets the name ‘additive manufacturing’. As you can see, the print theories between inkjet and 3D are very similar.

What else do I need to know about 3D printing and printer technology?

The most exciting thing about 3D printing today is that it’s no longer the stuff of scientists, engineers, and scientific experiments. It’s becoming popular because of the rising demand from interested consumers. The result is smaller, easier to operate machines at much lower costs. Hobbyists and enthusiasts can now buy budget end 3D printers for the price of a regular smartphone. Some even think we’ll soon be 3D printing our own unique products on demand. How cool is that!

3D Printing in the Late 1980s

Yes you read the title right. Stereolithography (SLA), commonly known as 3D printing, has been around since the 1980s. Those early pioneers called it Rapid Prototyping (RP) technologies. That’s a bit of a mouthful for most of us—hence the term 3D printing was born. Although printing is only one part of the process, most people prefer to use the term ‘3D printing’ when talking about the technology in general. Back in the 1980s, few could have realized the full potential of this amazing technology. They first used this early process as an affordable way to create prototypes for product development within certain industries.

Not a Lot of People Know This

Not a lot of people know this, but a Japanese lawyer called Dr. Hideo Kodama, was the first person to file a patent for Rapid Prototyping (RP) technology. Unfortunately for him, the authorities denied his application. Why? Because Kodama missed the one-year deadline and so failed to file the full patent requirements on time. This was back in May, 1980. As Dr. Kodama was a patent lawyer, his blunder was both embarrassing and disastrous.

Here’s something else that’s’ not common knowledge: Four years after Dr. Kodama, a French team of engineers decided to run with the technology. Although they had a keen interest in stereolithography, they soon had to abandon their mission. Despite their best intentions, there was a sad lack of interest in 3D printing from a business perspective. This wasn’t the end though. There was someone else who had a keen interest in the technology, and he picked up where the French left off.

Fast Forward to 1986

The actual origin of 3D printing, as we know it, has a different date. Today we can trace the very first patent for SLA back to 1986. To give you an idea of how long it’s been around, if you’re under 30 that’s before you were born. The patent belonged to an American inventor name Charles (Chuck) Hull. He was the first person to invent the SLA machine (3D printer). This was the first ever device of its kind to print a real physical part from a digital (computer generated) file. Hull later went on to co-found DTM Inc., which 3D Systems Corporation later acquired.

From its humble beginnings, 3D Systems Corporation went on to become a name synonymous with 3D printing. In fact, it’s one of the biggest and most productive organizations to operate within the wider 3D printing sector today. Even Hull himself admitted he underestimated the true impact and potential his creation would have on the modern world. Even today, new research and exciting innovation is moving ahead at an unprecedented rate.

Here’s a recap of events:

  • 1980: Rapid Prototyping (RP) technology patent failed by Dr Kodama
  • 1984: Stereolithography taken up by a French team but soon abandoned
  • 1986: Stereolithography taken up by American inventor Charles (Chuck) Hull
  • 1987: Very first SLA-1 machine
  • 1988: First SLS machine by DTM Inc; later acquired by 3D Systems Corporation

There was plenty of other, lesser known activity going on in the background during this time:

  • Ballistic Particle Manufacturing (BPM) patented by William Masters
  • Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM) patented by Michael Feygin
  • Solid Ground Curing (SGC) patented by Itzchak Pomerantz et al
  • Three-dimensional printing (3DP) patented by Emanuel Sachs et al

Only those involved in 3D printing technologies during the early 1990s would have known about the buzz going on at that time. But like all competition, it’s the best of the best that survive and go on to make their mark in the world. Today we have three originals remaining, which are:

  1. 3D Systems
  2. EOS
  3. Stratasys

The rest—as they say—is history.

When 3D Printing First Became Popular

3D printing first became popular back in the late 1980s, but not in the public sense. Its early popularity was among various industries. They liked it because it offered rapid prototyping of industrial products and designs. It proved to be quick and accurate, but it was also cost effective. For a lot of industries, rapid prototyping technology was checking a lot of boxes, and continues to do so.

Like with all great innovations, 3D printing had to go through a life cycle before it reached maturity. Most good ideas never take off, for all kinds of reasons, but a few do. The good news is that the additive manufacturing (AM) technology has made it. If we take 3D printing from its origin to the present day, it will look something like this:

  1. The Infancy Stage: 1981 to 1999
  2. The Adolescence Stage: 1999 to 2010
  3. The Adult Stage: 2011 to the present day

Some will say that 3D printers and 3D printing technology is now in its prime. Others will argue that there’s still a long and exciting road ahead of us. The latter group is most likely correct, as the future potential looks incredible. Think 3D food and human body parts—it’s all on the table.

Let’s take a look at each of these important stages one at a time:

Stage 1: The Infancy History of 3D Printing

This period is from 1981 through to 1999. It all began in Japan with Dr. Hideo Kodama of the Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute (NMIRI). It was a public research institute in Nagoya city. It was here that Dr. Kodama published his findings of a fully-functional rapid prototyping (RP) system. The material used for the process was a photopolymer—a type of light-activated resin. This was a time when the first solid, 3D printed object came to be. Each print cycle added a new layer to the previous one. As it did this, each of these layers corresponded to a cross-sectional slice in the 3D model. This was the industry’s humble beginnings. And you know what happened after that to Dr. Hideo Kodama’s failed patent (see above).

Point of interest: Photopolymer is a kind of acrylic-based substance. It leaves the printer’s nozzle in liquid form from where an ultraviolet (UV) laser beam hits the exposed material. The exposed photopolymer instantly turns from a liquid to a solid plastic. After the printed layers eventually reach the model’s height, the 3D object is complete. When news of stereolithography first came out it excited inventors like nothing before it. For them, it meant they had the potential to print accurate prototypes and test new designs much faster. It also meant they’d be able to print prototypes with much less upfront investment time and costs.

Moving on three years to 1984, it was Chuck (Charles) Hull’s time. Hull went on to break new ground in 3D printing technology by inventing stereolithography (SLA or SL). SLA is special because it allows designers to create their 3D models using digital data files. They then upload these files to the printer to produce real physical, 3D objects, one layer at a time.

By the year 1992, Chuck Hall had realized his dream and created the world’s first ever SLA machine. Now anyone, who had the money, could fabricate complex 3D objects and object parts. SLA was a game changer. This new process took a fraction of the time compared to more traditional methods.

Also in 1992, DTM Inc. presented the first ever selective laser sintering (SLS) machine to the world. SLS works by shooting a laser at a powdered material rather than a liquid.

Rough Around the Edges

As exciting as these new technologies were, they still had some way to go before they made mainstream news headlines. Complex 3D models, in particular, proved hard to perfect. All too often, objects would warp as the material hardened. The machines were also expensive. They were certainly too costly for solo investors and hobbyists. It’s for these reasons that the technology was unheard of for decades after those first inventions. Even today, a time when 3D printing has become a buzz word, the real potential continues to unfold.

Stage 2: The Adolescent History of 3D Printing

The adolescent history runs from 1999 through to 2010. The general public still wasn’t familiar with 3D printing technology, but there were plenty of others who were. This was the decade where we saw the first ever 3D printed organ. In this case it was a human bladder. We have the Scientists at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine to thank for that. First they 3D printed the synthetic scaffolds of the organ. After that, they coated it with actual cells taken from real patients. It’s what happened next that was so exciting. Surgeons were able to implant the newly formed tissue into patients. What made this so groundbreaking is that the patient’s own immune system would not reject an implant made of their own body cells. Even today it sounds farfetched, but it happened, and bigger and better things continue to happen.

As far as medicine goes, this was the decade for 3D printing technologies. As research continued, more amazing medical uses for 3D printing emerged. Here are just three others that are hard to believe:

  1. The first fabricated, functional miniature kidney
  2. The first prosthetic leg which included complex components
  3. The first bio-printed blood vessels using human cells

3D Printing’s Open Source Movement

The medical profession was not the only beneficiary of 3D printing innovation during this decade. It was also a time where the open-source movement got involved with the technology. One historical movement led by Dr. Adrian Bowyer in 2005 has to get a mention here. His open-source initiative was an ambitious project. The challenge was to create a 3D printer that had the ability to build itself, or at least print the parts needed for the new machine. He aptly named this ‘The Replication Rapid-Prototyper Project‘ or RepRap for short.

By the year 2008, the Reprap Darwin 3D printer was born. This open-source project helped to launch 3D printing into the spotlight. For the first time people began to talk seriously about the potential of 3D technology. They could see that they had the power to create all kinds of things based on ideas. A website called ‘Kickstarter‘ launched in 2009. It’s now the largest funding platform in the world for creative projects. There have been countless 3D-printing-related projects crowd-funded from this one platform alone.

3D Printing Becomes a Buzz Word

It was somewhere around the mid-2000s when ‘3D printing’ became something of a buzz word. The very first selective laser sintering (SLS) machines were to become commercially viable. In 2006, on-demand manufacturing came into being for industrial parts. Soon after this, the ability to print with various other materials got industry even more excited. From an engineering standpoint, this was a huge deal, offering all sorts of options in parts production. At the end of this adolescent period in 3D printing history we began to see various collaborative co-creation services appear. The easily accessible 3D printing marketplace had arrived. Nowadays, people can exhibit their designs, share ideas, and freely swap information.

Also at the end of this era, MakerBot made an appearance. This was the first service of its kind to provide open-source DIY 3D printer kits. It was an affordable way for people to learn all about the technology as they built their own machines. At last, 3D printers were becoming accessible to the general public.

Stage 3: The Maturing History of 3D Printing

If you thought 3D printing had reached its peak, think again. It’s as though there’re no limits going forward. The speed in which the technology has picked up in recent times is nothing short of spectacular. It’s almost as if we’re living in the future. For home users, hobbyists, and small businesses, the news gets better all the time. Aside from the impressive technology, the other reasons why 3D printing is becoming so commonplace are as follows:

  • The cost of 3D printers has plummeted
  • The accuracy of 3D printing has improved and continues to get better
  • The machines are user-friendly (anyone can use them)
  • It’s easier to design 3D models thanks to free software programs
  • Innovators continue to push the envelope, keeping things fresh and exciting

Charles Hull knew he was onto something big, but he could never have envisaged just how big it would all get. Today, anyone can print with materials other than plastics. There are options to print with metals, glass, paper and wood among others. What you can print is also keeping the industry alive and thrilling. You can print musical instruments, jewelry, household items, and clothing accessories. Future potential looks at 3D printed homes, drones, vehicles, foods, and other human body parts. There seems to be no limitations.

3D Printing in the Present Day – Where Are We Now?

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, things always do. At least this appears to be the case with 3D printing. The progress is so fast, and so groundbreaking, it won’t be long before the latter part of this guide is out of date. Seriously, it’s proving impossible to keep up sometimes. It’s only a matter of time when we’ll all be printing our own custom parts in 3D as and when we need them.

So what’s next? Nobody knows for sure, but what we can all agree on is that there will be more to write on 3D printing history in the future. At the time of writing this guide, the only limitations to date are human imagination, or so it seems. If we keep going like this, there will no longer be any ‘WOW’ factor. Perhaps that’s the only downside for those of us who love a great surprised.

The Road Ahead

Today, 3D printing is becoming more popular among the general public. Most people at least know what it is now, and some of the things it’s capable of. But unlike inkjet printing, few of us create 3D models and print them out on these amazing machines at home. At least not yet! The cost has come down by the thousands of dollars in recent years, and the technology has gotten better and continues to improve. But right now, the average person can’t justify owning their own machines, but this is set to change in the years ahead. It’s going to change because of the types of things we will be able to print in 3D in all kinds of different materials.

Anyone who wants to explore 3D printing and experience the technology can do. You don’t need to own a 3D printer to be able to print in 3D. It’s now possible to design your own 3D models using one of the free online 3D design programs like Tinkercad. Once you model is ready, you can find a local or online service to print your 3D model for you. It’s that easy.

There’s still plenty of future history around 3D printing so watch this space.

Written by Joseph Flynt.

Photo credit Adrian Bowyer

Warning; 3D printers should never be left unattended. They can pose a firesafety hazard.

History of 3D printing

In this section, we wanted to trace the history of 3D printing from its inception to the present day, as well as give a forecast regarding the future development of technology.

The first 3d printer was invented by the American Charles Hull, he worked on the technology of stereolithography (SLA), a patent for the technology was issued in 1986. The printer was a fairly large industrial installation. The installation "grew" a three-dimensional model by applying a photopolymerizable material to a moving platform. The basis was a digital model pre-modeled on a computer (3D model). This 3d printer created three-dimensional objects, rising by 0.1-0.2 mm - the height of the layer. Despite the fact that the first device had many disadvantages, the technology has received its application. Charles Hull is also the co-founder of 3dsystems, one of the world's leading manufacturers of industrial 3D printers.

Charles Hull was not the only one to experiment with 3D printing technology, as in 1986 Carl Deckard invented Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). You can learn more about the method in another article, briefly: a laser beam sinters a powder (plastic, metal, etc.), while the mass of the powder is heated in the working chamber to a temperature close to the melting point. The basis is also a digital model pre-modeled on a computer (3D model). After the laser passes through the horizontal layer, the chamber is lowered to the layer height (usually 0. 1-0.2 mm), the powder mass is leveled with a special device and a new layer is applied.

However, the most famous and widespread 3D printing method today is layer-by-layer direction (FDM). The idea of ​​technology belongs to Scott Crump (Scott Crump), the patent dates back to 1988. You can learn more about the method in another article, in short: material (usually plastic) is fed from the heated nozzle of the print head using a stepper motor, the print head moves on linear guides along 1 or two axes, and the platform moves along 1 or 2 axes . The basis of the movement is also a 3D model. The molten plastic is laid on the platform along the established contour, after which the head or platform is moved and a new layer is applied on top of the old one. Scott Crump is one of the founders of Stratasys, which is also one of the leaders in the production of industrial 3D printers.

All the devices described above belonged to the class of industrial devices and were quite expensive, so one of the first 3d Dimension printers from Stratasys in 1991 cost from 50 to 220 thousand US dollars (depending on the model and configuration). Printers based on the technologies described above cost even more and until very recently, only a narrow circle of interested specialists knew about these devices.

Everything began to change since 2006, when the RepRap project (from the English Replicating Rapid Prototyper - a self-replicating mechanism for rapid prototyping) was founded, with the goal of creating a self-copying device, which was a 3D printer working on technology FDM (layer by layer deposition). Only, unlike expensive industrial devices, it looked like a clumsy invention made from improvised means. Metal shafts serve as a frame, they also serve as guides for the print head. driven by simple stepper motors. The software is open source. Almost all connecting parts are printed from plastic on the 3D printer itself. This idea originated among English scientists and aimed at spreading available additive technologies so that users can download 3D models on the Internet and create the necessary products, thus minimizing the production chain.

Leaving aside the ideological component, the community (which exists and develops to this day) managed to create a 3d printer accessible to the "ordinary person". So a set of unprinted parts can cost around a couple of hundred US dollars and a finished device from $500. And even though these devices looked unsightly and were significantly inferior in quality to their industrial counterparts, all this was an incredible impetus for the development of 3D printing technology.
As the RepRap project developed, 3D printers began to appear, taking as a basis the base laid down by the movement in technical and, sometimes, ideological terms (for example, commitment to the concept of open source - OpenSource). The companies that made printers tried to make them better both in terms of performance, design and user experience. The first RepRap printers cannot be called a commercial product, since it is not so easy to manage (and even more so to assemble) and it is not always possible to achieve stable work results. Nevertheless, companies tried to close the more than significant gap in quality, leaving a significant gap in cost whenever possible.

First of all, it is worth mentioning the MakerBot company, which started as a startup, took RepRap ideas as a basis and gradually turned them into a product of a new quality.

Their flagship product (and in our opinion the best to this day) remains the MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printer. The model was released in 2012 and later discontinued, but remains one of the most popular 3D printer models to this day " personal" segment (according to 3dhubs). The word "personal" is in brackets because this printer, which cost $2,200 at the time of release, was (and is) primarily used for business purposes, but falls into the personal segment due to its cost. This model differs from its progenitors (RepRap), being, in fact, a finished commercial product. Manufacturers abandoned the concept of OpenSource, closing all sources and software codes.

In parallel with the release of equipment, the company actively developed the Thingiverse resource, which contains many models for 3d printing, available for download for free. During the development of the first printer and beyond, the community has helped the company a lot, testing the product and offering various upgrades. After the release of the Replicator 2 (and the closure of development), the situation has changed. You can learn more about the history of MakerBot and other companies and people associated with 3d printing by watching the film Print the legend.

This film also highlights the history of Formlabs, one of the first companies to launch an affordable 3D printer based on SLA (Strereolithography) technology. The company raised funds for the first FORM 1 model through crowdfunding, encountered production difficulties, but eventually released an affordable and productive 3D printer, closing the quality gap described above.

And although the 3D printers described above were far from perfect, they laid the foundation for the development of affordable 3D printing technology, which continues to this day. At the moment, the quality of FDM and SLA printers is increasing, but there is no significant price reduction, rather, on the contrary, it is growing slightly. Along with FDM and SLA, many companies are developing in the field of powder sintering (SLS), as well as metal printing. Despite the fact that such printers cannot be called affordable, their price is much lower in comparison with analogues from the professional segment. It is also worth noting the development of the line of materials, in addition to the standard ABS and PLA plastics, today many different materials are used, including nylon, carbon fiber and other durable and refractory materials.

Personal 3d printers of today are very close to professional devices, the development of which also does not stop. In addition to the "founders" of the technology (Stratasys, 3dsystems), many small companies specializing in industrial 3D printing technologies (metal in particular) have emerged. 3D printing is also attracting the attention of large corporations, which, with varying degrees of success, are striving to take their place in a growing market. Here it is worth highlighting HP, which recently released the HP Jet Fusion 3D 4200 model, which has gained popularity among 3d printing professionals (as of 2018, it is at the top of the ranking of professional 3D printers in the quarterly reports of the 3dhubs portal).

However, 3D printing technologies are developing not only in breadth, but also in depth. One of the main disadvantages of 3D printing, compared to other production methods, is the low speed of creating models. A significant advance in terms of accelerating 3D printing was the invention of CLIP technology by CARBON, printers operating on this technology can produce models 100 times faster than classic SLA technology.

There is also a constant expansion of the range, properties and quality of materials and post-processing of products. All this accelerates the transition to the use of 3d printers in production, and not just as prototyping devices. Today, many large and not only companies and organizations are closely using a 3D printer in their production chain: from consumer goods manufacturers NIKE and PUMA to BOEING and SPACE X (the latter prints engine parts for its rockets that could not be made in any other way) .

In addition to the "classic" scope of 3D printing, today more and more often you can see news about how a house or some organ (or rather, a small part of it) was printed on a 3D printer from bio-material. And this is true, several companies around the world are testing or already partially using 3D printing in the construction of buildings and structures. This mainly concerns the contour pouring of walls (similar to the FDM method) with a special composite concrete mixture. And in Amsterdam there is a 3D printed bridge project and this list will only expand over time, since the use of 3D printing in construction can significantly reduce costs and increase the speed of work at certain stages.
With regards to medicine, here 3D printing also finds application, but at the moment it is not printing organs, but rather the use of technology in prosthetics (of various kinds) and bone replacement. Also, 3D printing technology is widely used in dentistry (SLA technology). Regarding the printing of organs, this is still far in the future, at the moment bio-3D printers are experimental facilities in the early stages, the success of which is limited to printing a few limited-viable cells.

Looking to the future, it is safe to say that 3D printing technology will expand both in breadth and depth, improving technology, speeding up processes, improving quality and improving material properties. 3D printers will increasingly replace old methods in production chains of various scales, and world production, due to this, will move towards the “on demand” scheme of work, increasing the degree of product customization. Perhaps someday, 3D printers will be widely used at the household level for the production of necessary things (the dream and goal of the RepRap movement), but this requires not only the development of technology, but also a paradigm shift in social thinking, as well as the development of a powerful design ecosystem ( 3d modeling) products (which is often forgotten).

3d printing of houses (and other structures) will no doubt also develop, reducing costs and production time, which, together with the development of new approaches in architecture and urban planning (such as modular construction and the prefabricated method), will give a tangible impetus to development the industry as a whole.

Biological 3D printers will be an important tool in scientific research. However, before they appear in hospitals and clinics, where they will print new organs, it is still very, very far away (in fact, this is science fiction).

Alcom | History of 3D printers

May 13, 2018

Since the beginning of the new millennium, the concept of "3D" has firmly entered our daily lives. First of all, we associate it with cinema, photography or animation. But there is hardly a person now who has not heard about such a novelty as 3D printing at least once in his life.

What is it and what new opportunities in creativity, science, technology and everyday life bring us 3D printing technologies, we will try to figure it out in the article below.

But first, a little history. Although there has been a lot of talk about 3D printing in the last few years, in fact, this technology has been around for a long time. In 1984, Charles Hull developed a 3D printing technology for reproducing objects using digital data, and two years later named and patented the stereolithography technique.

At the same time, this company developed and created the first industrial 3D printer. Subsequently, the baton was taken over by 3D Systems, which developed in 1988 printer model for 3D printing at home SLA - 250.

In the same year, fused deposition modeling was invented by Scott Grump. After several years of relative calm, in 1991 Helisys develops and markets a technology for the production of multilayer objects, and a year later, in 1992, the first selective laser soldering system is released at DTM.

Then, in 1993, Solidscape was founded, which began mass production of inkjet-based printers that are capable of producing small parts with an ideal surface, and at a relatively low cost.

At the same time, the University of Massachusetts patents a 3D printing technology similar to conventional 2D inkjet technology. But, perhaps, the peak of development and popularity of 3D printing still fell on the new, 21st century.

In 2005, the first 3D printer capable of printing in color appeared, this is the brainchild of Z Corp called the Spectrum Z510, and literally two years later the first printer appeared that could reproduce 50% of its own components.

Currently, the scope and scope of 3D printing is constantly growing. Everything turned out to be subject to these technologies - from blood vessels to coral reefs and furniture. However, we will talk about the areas of application of these technologies a little later.

So, what is printing on a 3d printer?

In short, this is the construction of a real object according to a 3D model created on a computer. Then the digital three-dimensional model is saved in the STL file format, after which the 3D printer, to which the file is output for printing, forms a real product.

The printing process itself is a series of repetitive cycles associated with the creation of three-dimensional models, applying a layer of consumables to the desktop (elevator) of the printer, moving the desktop down to the level of the finished layer and removing waste from the surface of the table.

The cycles follow one after another continuously: the next layer of material is applied on the first layer, the elevator is lowered again and so on until the finished product is on the working table.

How does a 3D printer work?

The application of 3D printing is a serious alternative to traditional methods of prototyping and small-scale production. A three-dimensional or 3D printer, unlike a conventional one that prints two-dimensional drawings, photographs, etc. on paper, makes it possible to output three-dimensional information, that is, to create three-dimensional physical objects.

At the moment, this class of equipment can work with photopolymer resins, various types of plastic filament, ceramic powder and metal clay.

What is a 3d printer?

The principle of operation of a 3d printer is based on the principle of gradual (layered) creation of a solid model, which, as it were, is “grown” from a certain material, which will be discussed a little later. The advantages of 3D printing over the usual, manual methods of building models are high speed, simplicity and relatively low cost.

For example, to create a 3D model or any part manually, it can take quite a long time - from several days to months. After all, this includes not only the manufacturing process itself, but also preliminary work - drawings and diagrams of the future product, which still do not give a complete vision of the final result.

As a result, development costs increase significantly, the period from product development to its mass production increases.

3D technologies, on the other hand, allow you to completely eliminate manual labor and the need to make drawings and calculations on paper - after all, the program allows you to see the model from all angles already on the screen, and eliminate the identified shortcomings not in the process of creation, as is the case with manual production, but directly during development and create a model in a few hours.

This virtually eliminates the possibility of manual errors.

What is a 3d printer: video

There are various 3D printing technologies. The difference between them lies in the way the product layers are applied. Let's consider the main ones.

The most common are SLS (selective laser plexus), HPM (molten material overlay) and SLA (stereolithiography).

The most widely used technology due to the high speed of building objects is stereolithography or SLA.

SLA Technology

The technology works like this: a laser beam is directed onto a photopolymer, after which the material hardens.

The photopolymer is a translucent material that deforms when exposed to atmospheric moisture.

Once cured, it can be easily glued, machined and painted. The working table (elevator) is in a container with a photopolymer. After the laser beam passes through the polymer and the layer hardens, the working surface of the table moves down.

SLS Technology

Sintering powder reagents under the action of a laser beam - it is also SLS - the only 3D printing technology that is used in the manufacture of molds for both metal and plastic casting.

Plastic models have excellent mechanical properties, which make them suitable for making full-featured items. SLS technology uses materials that are similar in properties to the brands of the final product: ceramics, powdered plastic, metal.

The 3D printer device looks like this: powder substances are applied to the surface of the elevator and sintered under the action of a laser beam into a solid layer that corresponds to the parameters of the model and determines its shape.

DLP technology

DLP technology is new to the 3D printing market. Stereolithographic printers are positioned today as the main alternative to FDM equipment. This type of printer uses digital light processing technology. Many people wonder what the 3d printer of this sample prints with?

Instead of a plastic filament and a heating head, photopolymer resins and a DLP projector are used to create three-dimensional figures.

Below you can see how the 3d printer works video:

Having heard about a DLP 3d printer for the first time, what it is is a completely reasonable question. Despite the intricate name, the device is almost no different from other desktop printers. By the way, its developers, represented by
QSQM Technology Corporation, have already launched the first samples of high-tech equipment into a series. It looks like this:

EBM Technology

It should be noted that SLS/DMLS technologies are far from the only ones in the field of metal printing. Currently, electron beam melting is widely used to create metal three-dimensional objects. Laboratory studies have shown that the use of metal wire for layer-by-layer deposition in the manufacture of high-precision parts is ineffective, so engineers have developed a special material - metal clay.

The metal clay used as ink during electron beam melting is made from a mixture of organic glue, metal shavings and a certain amount of water. In order to turn the ink into a solid object, it must be heated to a temperature at which the glue and water will burn out, and the chips will fuse together into a monolith.

EBM 3d printer: how


It is noteworthy that this principle is also used when working with SLS printers. But unlike them, EBM machines generate directed electron pulses instead of a laser beam to melt metal clay. I must say that this method provides high print quality and excellent drawing of small details.

Today, only industrial printers using EBM technology are sold. Here is what one of them looks like:

The video below demonstrates the capabilities of a 3d printer adapted for electron beam melting:

HPM Technology (FDM) HPM

Allows you to create not only models, but also final parts from standard, structural and high-performance thermoplastics. It is the only technology that uses production grade thermoplastics to provide unparalleled mechanical, thermal and chemical strength to parts.

HPM Printing stands out for its cleanliness, ease of use and suitability for office use. Thermoplastic parts are resistant to high temperatures, mechanical stress, various chemicals, wet or dry environments.

Soluble auxiliary materials allow the creation of complex multi-level shapes, cavities and holes that would be problematic to obtain with conventional methods. HPM 3D printers create parts layer by layer by heating the material to a semi-liquid state and extruding it according to computer-generated paths.

HPM printing uses two different materials - one (main) will consist of the finished part, and an auxiliary, which is used for support. The filaments of both materials are fed from the 3D printer bays into the print head, which moves based on changes in the X and Y coordinates and fuses the material, creating the current layer, until the base moves down and the next layer begins.

When the 3D printer has finished creating the part, it remains to separate the auxiliary material mechanically, or dissolve it with detergent, after which the product is ready for use.

Interestingly, not only automatic desktop HPM printers are popular these days, but also manual printing devices. Moreover, it would be correct to call them not printing devices, but pens for drawing three-dimensional objects.

Pens are made in the same way as printers using fusing technology. The plastic thread is fed into the pen, where it melts to the desired consistency and is immediately squeezed out through a miniature nozzle! With proper skill, these original decorative figures are obtained:

And of course, just like technologies, printers themselves differ from each other. If you have a printer that works according to SLA, then it will be impossible to apply SLS technology on it, i.e., each printer was created only for a certain printing technology.

3D printing applications

3D printing has opened up great opportunities for experimentation in areas such as architecture, construction, medicine, education, clothing design, small-scale production, jewelry, and even in the food industry.

In architecture, for example, 3D printing allows you to create three-dimensional models of buildings, or even entire neighborhoods with all the infrastructure - squares, parks, roads and street lighting.

Thanks to the cheap gypsum composite used, the cost of finished models is low. And more than 390 thousand CMYK shades make it possible to embody any, even the most daring, imagination of an architect in color.

3d printer: construction application

In construction, there is every reason to believe that in the near future the process of erecting buildings will be much faster and easier. Californian engineers have created a 3D printing system for large objects. It works on the principle of a construction crane, erecting walls from layers of concrete.

This printer can build a two-story house in just 20 hours.

After that, the workers will only have to carry out finishing work. 3D House 3D printers are gradually gaining a strong position in small-scale production.

These technologies are mainly used for the production of exclusive products, such as art, role-playing game characters, prototype models of future products or any structural parts.

In medicine, thanks to 3D printing technologies, doctors have been able to recreate copies of the human skeleton, which allows them to more accurately practice techniques that increase the guarantee of successful operations.

3D printers are increasingly being used in the field of prosthetics in dentistry, as these technologies allow much faster production of prostheses than with traditional manufacturing.

Not so long ago, German scientists developed a technology for obtaining human skin. In its manufacture, a gel obtained from donor cells is used. And in 2011, scientists managed to reproduce a living human kidney.

As you can see, the possibilities that 3D printing opens up in almost all areas of human activity are truly endless.

Printers that create culinary masterpieces that reproduce prostheses and human organs, toys and visual aids, clothes and shoes are no longer a figment of the imagination of science fiction writers, but the realities of modern life.

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