Source:m3dzone.com

Why 3D Printing is Older Than You Think

Modern technologies tend to get the most attention and widespread fame only when they enter mass production and when average people can get their hands on it. This is more than understandable because if it does not go commercial it means it is either too expensive to mass-produce or too specific, special, or complicated to adapt for average consumers. In any case, technology is moving more rapidly all the time and we have been getting some true gems over the last few years.

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Perhaps the most popular thing you can purchase on the modern market is a personal 3D printer, a machine that allows you to practically make whatever you can dream of (and program into the accompanying software) as long as it can be made of the material the printer supports. Making things in three dimensions was the obvious next step from regular fax machines and traditional printers, but it was always viewed as science fiction. Then they became prominent and the craze has barely stopped since.

The technology has allowed a whole new range of enthusiasts and artists to show off their craft and ordinary people to make their own mementoes, figures, and useful tools for everyday use. But what would you say if you knew 3D printers were not nearly as new you think and that they have been around for decades already? Now that we have your attention, it is time to explore why this technique is quite a few years older than you probably think. If you wish to find out more about topics surrounding 3D printers, definitely check out 3dprinterworld.co.uk.

Infancy Period and Beginning

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You will be surprised and shocked to learn that the state-of-the-art technology of 3D printing is actually about four decades old. Since the start of 1980s, a form of this tech known as additive manufacturing has been around but people have not known about it or at least they have not viewed it like this. In the year 1981, a man by the name of Hideo Kodama came up with an amazing idea and published it. He spoke of a rapid prototyping system that would use photopolymers to make solid printed models made up of multiple layers. Each of the layer would correspond to a real slice of the model and give it shape and form. If it sounds familiar or if you can picture it in your head, guess why. This was the start of 3D printing.

In 1984 another genius, Charles Hull, invented stereolithography, a practice that allows us to create 3D models through digital data that serves as a guide or instruction for the machine to make a tangible object. Back then this was true science fiction as similar things were only possible in the great sci-fi movies of the time. The photopolymers mentioned above were the key element to stereolithography. Through the use of ultra violet laser beams directed at it, the photopolymer turns solid and takes the shape of the design that was made. The result is a 3D model. This technique was used with prototypes and inventors and researchers no longer needed funding and investments to test their designs.

If you are wondering what was the first stereolithographic apparatus (SLA) machine was, or the first 3D printer, it was the one made by 3D Systems in 1992, the company of Charles Hull whom we discussed earlier. This revolutionary machine did things quickly and efficiently even if the design has more complex parts. Also in 1992, a startup company by the name of DTM developed a selective laser sintering (SLS) machine, a similar device that shoots lasers at powder instead of liquid to make the models. Therefore, we can say that the year 1992 was the both the unofficial and official start of 3D printers as we know them. There were many problems along the way and numerous models came out flawed and warped, but by the turn of the millennium things were looking up.

Between 2000 and 2010

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The following decade was the adolescent period in the life of 3D printing and the time when it really came into its own. Things started changing in 1999 when the first 3D printed organ was used for transplantation in humans. The researchers managed to print synthetic human bladder scaffolds and coated them with real patient’s cells. A kidney, a prosthetic leg, and even blood vessels followed. In 2005, there was an idea by Dr. Adrian Bowyer to make a printer which could print out its own parts. His RepRap Project was launched and in 2008 a printer known as Darwin was the first self-replicating printer that can make copies of itself or birth new printers just like it. This was the first step in people owning 3D printers at home. The now-famous Kickstarter platform also helped fund numerous 3D printer projects since its launch in 2009. Innovations kept coming and the technology and science behind the models became better, faster, and more optimized.

From 2011 Onward

The market and industry reached new heights in the last ten years or so and it is now a legitimate business on its own. We have actually been living in the future for a few decades if 3D printers are the judges of anything, but people only became aware of them when they were already peaking. They are still quite pricey but nowhere near as pricey as they used to be. The best models will set you back thousands of dollars, but as a beginner or a mere techie who enjoys modern gadgets, you can find amazing models for a few hundred bucks. Best of all, the materials used for the models is quite cheap. The biggest problem could be the programming and designing needed for the software part of every model, but contemporary printers usually come with their own dedicated apps and programs and plenty of instructions. The future is very bright for this technology and the potential is limitless. It is only a matter of time before other materials become available for printing use and bigger printers step onto the scene. The whole way in which we build and design everyday things could potentially change if this technology proves even more useful than it already is.


Ricardo is a freelance writer specialized in politics. He is with foreignpolicyi.org from the beginning and helps it grow. Email: richardorland4[at]gmai.com