What’s 30 years old but feels brand new? Believe it or not, it’s 3D printing. Yep, this technology has been around since the Beegees. Come with us as we take a brief tour through the history of 3D printing.
In 1981, Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute published his account of a functional rapid prototyping system using photopolymers (more on those in a minute). A solid, printed model was built up in layers, each of which corresponded to a cross-sectional slice in the model, Hmm, ring any bells?
Fast forward three years later, to 1984, where Chuck Hull broke fresh ground by inventing stereolithography, which became one of the most popular types of 3D printing.
Stereolithography (SLA) lets designers create 3D models using digital data (yes I was also surprised to learn that computers could generate 3D models in the early eighties), which can then be used to create a physical, tangible object.
The key to SLA is a kind of acrylic-based material known as a photopolymer. As described in detail in the different types of 3D printers, SLA is an additive process where you convert liquid materials into a solid piece of plastic, by selectively curing it using a light source. This process then molds the material into the shape of your 3D-model’s design. You can learn more about photopolymers from this guide.
This new technology was big news to inventors and entrepreneurs, who could now prototype and test their designs without having to commit to a massive upfront investment in manufacturing.
In 1992, George Bush was elected as president–and 3D Systems (Charles Hull’s company) created the world’s first stereolithographic printing (SLA) machine, which made it feasible to fabricate complex components, layer by layer, in a fraction of the time it would usually take.
That same year, startup DTM made the world’s first selective laser sintering (SLS) system–that shoots a laser in a powder rather than a liquid.
These technologies were in their infancy and were not ideal; there was some warping from the material as it hardened, and the machines were prohibitively expensive for home historians, but their future was undeniable.
Decades later, 3D printing history has proven the old adage, that the past is simply a window into the future, and that this technology is still evolving.
The lead-up to Y2K was thrilling–not only because, in 1999, the first Beverly Hills 90210 entered itfs final season on the air, but also because the initial 3D-printed manhood was planted in humans. Researchers at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine published artificial molds of a human bladder and then coated these molds with the cells of human patients.
The newly generated tissue was then implanted into the patients, with little to no chance that their immune systems would reject them since they were created from their own cells.
Medically speaking, this was a terrific decade in the history of 3D printing. In just 10 short years, scientists from various institutions and startups fabricated a functional miniature kidney, bioprinted the first blood vessels using only human cells, and assembled a prosthetic leg with complicated parts which were printed within precisely the exact same structure.
This was also the decade in which 3D printing fulfilled the open-source movement. In 2005, Dr. Adrian Bowyer’s RepRap Project established an open-source initiative to make a 3D printer which could essentially build itself, or print almost all of its own pieces!
In its 2008 launch, “Darwin”, is a self-replicating printer that is equipped to do precisely that. Suddenly, people everywhere had the ability to create whatever substance they could dream up by themselves.
From the mid-2000s, the democratization of fabricating had captured the public’s imagination, as had the notion of mass customization (which, unlike jumbo shrimp, isn’t really an oxymoron).
The first SLS machine became commercially viable in 2006, which opened the door to on-demand manufacturing of industrial components. 3D-printing startup Objet (now merged with Stratasys) constructed a 3D printer that could print in numerous substances, which enabled just one part to be fabricated in various versions, with different material properties.
The intensely creative innovations of the decade have been topped off with the launch of collaborative co-creation services like Shapeways, a 3D-printing market where designers can get feedback from customers and other designers and then easily manufacture their products.
To top it all off, MakerBot hit the scene, supplying open-source DIY kits for manufacturers to construct their own 3D printers. At this time, the barriers to entry for inventors and designers were falling daily.
Today, looking back over just the last few decades, it’s difficult not to feel like we are living in the future. Coming soon: 3D-printed spacesuits!
Well, almost. While the purchase price of 3D printers has dropped rapidly, 3D printers have continued to improve. You can now buy a 3D printer for under $500, one that will outperform a model that would have cost you over $3000 a decade ago.
With the continued improvement of 3D printing, innovators are pushing the envelope in ways that Charles Hull could only dream about. Designers are no longer confined to printing with vinyl. Case in point: now you can print the engagement ring of your dreams using silver or gold. Engineers at the University of Southampton have flown the world’s first 3D-printed unmanned aircraft, and KOR Ecologic prototyped Urbee, a vehicle with a 3D-printed body that is designed to receive 200 mpg on the freeway.
That takes us up to the present day; although by the time this history lesson is published, there’ll surely have been many other additive production breakthroughs happening somewhere in the world. It is nearly impossible to maintain. Ultimately, our children are going to build art projects using their classroom’s 3D printer, and our dentist will have the ability to call in a prescription for a custom-printed pair of dentures.
Meanwhile, I will be watching the news and waiting for my spacesuit.
Article source: https://www.autodesk.com/redshift/history-of-3d-printing/
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