Though it may seem to be a new technology, commercial 3D Printers have been around for quite a while. However, the attention and the versatility of the 3D Printer has evolved quite a bit in the past 10 years lending to a misconception that something new is occurring. But 3D CAD design, 3D CAD models, and 3D Printing in general must be understood as being not an infant, but a fully developed adult if the modern-day 3D artist is to truly grasp the capabilities of 3D Printing process. Here is an overview of the history of 3D Printing from inscription to today.
The birth of 3D Printing
When we think back to the 1980s, typically we have a perception of well outdated technology. There was the ZX Spectrum, the Apple Lisa computer, Epson qc-10, and the introduction of the DNS (Domain Name System). It was during this time of computer and technology renaissance that the first 3D Printer design was conceptualized by Dr. Kodama. Unfortunately for Dr. Kodama, his patent was not filed properly, and so the official “grandfather” of 3D Printing technology is Charles Hull, with his 1983 invention of the SLA machine.
Stereo lithography (referred to as SLA, SL, or SLS printing) is the photopolymerisation method of creating 3D Prints. SLA uses a liquid polymer that is set by a UV light. The technology is still in use today as one of the dominant forms of the craft. And though the system may be effective for printing a model, it was not the only development of the 1980. Scott Crump contributed to the 3D Printing technology FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling), a style of printing which is commonly used with desktop 3D Printing. Hans Langer is known for the LS (Laser sintering) methodology, specifically the Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) method.
Due to the limitations of the period, old 3D Printers lacked the ability to output the highly-detailed models that we find in today’s desktop and industrial 3D Printers. The limitations mandated that the designs have large faces, that the 3D CAD design meet very specific parameters, and no colours were available for the design. The 80s, 3D Printing was a means to an end, focused primarily on creating prototypes more rapidly than manufacturing those products the traditional, more time consuming, way.
The early 90s to the mid-2000s
As one could expect, with the development of new technologies and engineering processes came the emergence of new 3D Printing materials and new 3D Printing methodologies. Primarily, the emergence of the various rapid methods was introduced in the 1990s to the early 2000s. Methods included the RT (Rapid Tooling) and the RM (Rapid Manufacturing). Both methods consider a wide variety of prototyping and manufacturing techniques which are not specifically 3D Printing oriented, but enhanced the streamlining of products non-the less. Due to such technologies SLS and FDM 3D Printing evolved to meet the quicker pace of manufacturing.
The 90s started to bring 3D Printing away from the industry and commercialized dominant market to the individual. However, systems were still very expensive and much of the objects which were created during that time were not designed for longevity. The FDM and SLS methods which were introduced at the later part of the 1990s increased durability to models, allowing them to function within complex 3D CAD designs, but the overall result still included limitations on the detail of the design.
3D printing from the 90s till now
Perhaps the perception that 3D Printing is a new technology stems from the availability to 3D Printers. Prior to 2007 the 3D Printer was priced at over £10,000. This greatly stifled the market for private ownership and for small businesses to take part in 3D Design and 3D Printing. However, thanks to the persistence of the Reprap community, the price of the 3D Printer has dropped substantially. One can find a printer on the market for under £1000 today. This drop has had considerable cheaper results than the higher priced models. As the price drops, so does the quality of the 3D Printer parts. Consequently, the resolution of the print gets progressively worse as one progresses to the cheaper machines (however, there are a few exceptions to this rule, the Prusa i3 MK2 for instance).
A modern 3D printer has the capability to use various materials as well as various formats to print complex 3D CAD designs. Where once the systems required the files to be formatted with very strict parameters, in today’s world the average 3D artist can export their files, regardless of the complexity of the 3D model, to a wide verity of 3D Printing formats. Additionally, conceptualization artists have a broader selection of 3D Printer materials at their disposal. This development continually revolutionises the prototype process and given way to new discussions within the 3D Printing market. Disney has patented an instantaneous 3D Printer, 3D artists are now selling their stock models through various online venues, and the industrial 3D Printer market has continued to expand.
As the world moves more towards smart technologies and to the integration of A.I within the 3D world, we can expect that the next few years will show some drastic leaps and bounds within 3D Printing.